For the text that this meditation is drawn from, please read Luke 19:1-10.
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”–St Luke 19:10
Could a man like him be forgiven? He was a crook and everyone knew it—one of those political sell-outs, a traitorous tax collector!
He was a man who got rich at the expense of other people’s hard work and toil. When it came down to it, there was really nothing to like about him at all. And yet, this was a man whom Jesus cared about, a man He was willing to forgive.
For all his flaws and faults, Jesus was willing to give him a new beginning, and in the process, teach him about what it meant to practice restoration in his relationships with others. This man was one who could be redeemed, after all. The story of Zacchaeus is one of the Bible’s most amazing stories of redemption and restoration.
Children often learn a little song in Sunday School about him: “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he…”. The song goes on to tell the story how this wee little man came to believe in Jesus Christ, when the Master called out to him so that they could visit together.
As the song says, Zacchaeus was indeed a man of small stature. Wanting to catch a glimpse of Jesus, who was passing through Jericho where he lived, Zacchaeus went out to see the Lord as He passed by. A problem confronted Zacchaeus in his quest to see Jesus, though. A large crowd already had gathered to see Him. Zacchaeus may have had a great deal of wealth and political power, but that did not change the fact that he could not see over the crowd. So, Zacchaeus climbed up in a tree to get a look at Jesus, for no one would have made way for him to get down front. Why not? He probably was very unpopular, but this did not have to do with his stature.
Zacchaeus was a Jewish tax collector, which meant he collaborated with the hated Romans, whom the Jews despised as an occupying army. The Romans used the tax collectors to gather in their customs and taxes in the countries they occupied, using the money among other things to feed the huge imperial army. The people regarded tax collectors as traitors. If that didn’t make Zacchaeus bad enough, on top of being a traitor, he was a crooked tax collector at that! Usually, in the Bible when tax collectors are mentioned, it is in the same sentence with “sinners” as if the two were pretty much indistinguishable. Where Zacchaeus was concerned, it certainly seemed to be the case.
Jesus reached out to Zacchaeus, though. When He passed by and saw the man in the tree, Jesus called him by name and told him to come down. Zacchaeus obliged and was thrilled to get to meet Jesus in person. Jesus visited with him at his home. That action was unexpected, probably, by the crowd. They knew what sort of man Zacchaeus was. And they knew what sort of Teacher Jesus was. It displeased people that Jesus was befriending Zacchaeus. It still displeases people today when Christians go outside the church walls and make friends of those on the outside of the faith. But what could be more important? My friends, we will not win many popularity contests if we sit down and break bread with Jesus Christ. It may not displease everyone we know, but when we heed His call, and accept His invitation, it will almost certainly displease some. While Jesus was with him, something prompted Zacchaeus to reflect on his life. Time spent with Jesus seemed to put people in a reflective mood about their ways and dealings in the world. Jesus had the ability to judge the sin in people’s lives, but in a way that did not make them feel threatened or unwilling to admit their wrong doing. Compassion was at the root of all His words and actions. As Zacchaeus visited with Christ, he came to realize there was nothing good about the path he had been on, and he needed to change.
As a start, he told Jesus that he would give away half of his wealth to those who had nothing. That is not all: Zacchaeus said he would restore “four fold” those he had defrauded. Zacchaeus found out about forgiveness that day. The joy that he felt over finding forgiveness changed his relationship with others, too. Zacchaeus wanted to make past wrongs right, as much as he could through restoration of the fortunes of others. Forgiveness, redemption, and restoration are all possible when someone is with Jesus. And there are no strings attached—no demands were made of Zacchaeus—whatever it was that happened that day, he offered up this plan after the encounter with Jesus, and Jesus did not cajole him into it. Jesus did not come to make a list of demands of us, you see. He met the law’s demands Himself. He did what we could not do. He lived a perfect life, and then laid down that perfect life of His own accord on the cross for you and me. The sinless One died for the sinful ones. Jesus suffered, bled, died, and rose again for Zacchaeus. And for me. And for you.
“The language of Christianity is the language of substitution. It is not primarily the language of morals. God is not presented as a mother saying “eat all your vegetables”. Instead, Christianity is about a one-sided rescue, that we didn’t want and certainly didn’t deserve, and he did it anyway.” Dr Rod Rosenbladt, via Mockingbird
My friends, redemption and restoration are more than the stuff of Sunday School stories: they can be living realities for you and me, too. God can take those who are bent and broken, and who know it, and make them into a new creation. Jesus can take those whom society has no use for, change them, and turn them into born-again people. Any of us may have made many mistakes in the past, and any of us may have been careless with how we used others. But that does not mean that we cannot have a different tomorrow than we have had today. It is possible to find a new way of living, and it is possible to find forgiveness and redemption, because of Jesus.
The same Christ who called to Zacchaeus up in his perch calls out to every one of us—“Come down from there, for today I must visit with you.” There is an urgency in the words of Jesus to Zacchaeus, and there is an urgency in His words to us. He does not want us to delay or put off fellowship with Him because of all the blessings that He wishes to bestow. He wants to fellowship with us, and He wants us to come to Him for forgiveness of our sin. When we heed His invitation and believe in Him, our whole outlook can be changed, and we can begin to want the best for others. Change is possible. Forgiveness with God is real.
(This was a sermon the Parson recently preached in a parish church near his home.)