The story of Zacchaeus is well known and was first taught to me in Sunday School. When I first heard the story of how Jesus called Zacchaeus down from his tree and they became friends, it was one of the beautiful, happy ending kinds of stories we all love. While it is certainly true that Jesus offers “good news” to Zacchaeus by proclaiming “today salvation has come to this house,” there is more to this story than meets the eye.
Tax collectors in Jesus’ time where considered liars and cheats, and were a branch of the Roman Empire. Zacchaeus is said to be the “chief tax collector” and as a Jewish man collecting taxes for the Romans from his fellow Jews, he was public enemy number one. This is why the crowd was so shocked and disturbed when Jesus calls him down and goes to Zacchaeus’ house. It wasn’t that Zacchaeus was just a sinner, he was actively exploiting and cheating his own people.
Jesus however comes to each of us with a radical gift of grace. Grace is given to all people and is a gift none of us deserve. The story of Zacchaeus demonstrates that Jesus’ love extends to all people and that no one is forgotten or written off. God does not give up on people and neither should we.
We can take this story even deeper when we think of how Jesus offered grace to Zacchaeus. When Zacchaeus saw Jesus coming he went up in a Sycamore tree, presumably to get a better look. Zacchaeus certainly could see more from his tree but he also was a safe distance away. Perhaps Zacchaeus knew in his heart that Jesus was coming to change his life, perhaps he knew he wasn’t worthy of being loved, perhaps he was not wanting to personally engage his faith.
For me this story has a lot to do with evangelism and how we can be God’s agents of grace. Jesus consistently went to the people in society who were considered lesser and offers grace. He consistently seeks out the lost and invites them to experience God’s love. I also find when Jesus actually went to Zacchaeus’ house to be significant in this story. Jesus goes to where people are to offer grace. Jesus doesn’t wait for us to come to him, he comes to us. By coming to Zacchaeus' he also forms a relationship of trust.
To GO! for God we have to find ways to demonstrate God's love in our actions and form relationships that are built on trust and mutuality. As agents of God’s grace we are called to meet people where they are and invite them to experience God’s love, mercy, and grace. So get out there, meet people where they are, and maybe invite yourself over for dinner!