And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Luke 19:9-10

Zacchaeus was a tax collector of Jewish descent (he is called a “son of Abraham” by Jesus in Luke 19:9) He was the chief tax collector in Jericho. Tax collectors worked for the Romans, but were hated by them because they were Jewish. The tax collectors were hated by their own Jewish people because they worked for the despised Romans. And as if there wasn’t another reason to dislike them, most tax collectors were corrupt, assessing and stealing much more than what was fair from those they were taxing. As a result, they were rich, while many of their fellow Jews lived in poverty and in fear of taxes they wouldn’t be able to pay, which could cause them to be thrown into prison.

One day, Jesus was passing through Jericho. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. We don’t know his motivation. Was he curious? Was he repentant? Was Jesus just the thing everyone was doing that day and he wanted to feel included instead of ostracized? We don’t know. What we do know is that he was short, and with all the crowds gathering, Zacchaeus would not be able to see Jesus. Certainly no one was going to offer him a front row seat.

Zacchaeus climbed up into a sycamore tree so he could get a better view. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the streets of Jericho that day, waiting for Jesus. Jesus had so many people to interact with, and undoubtedly a lot of thoughts as He processed the scene. And yet His eyes saw Zacchaeus up there in the tree. And He deliberately altered His journey in order to speak with him. Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house TODAY!” (Luke 19:5) Jesus had a sense of urgency as regarded Zacchaeus. He did not want to put off for a minute the opportunity to help redeem this man. He didn’t tell Zacchaeus to stop by His tent one day or to make an appointment with one of the disciples. He told him He would come that very day.

Imagine how Zacchaeus must have felt. Here was a man, scorned and hated by pretty much everybody and now the Man at the center of attention, Jesus, was looking at only him! He wanted to stay in his home that very day. Zacchaeus must have felt joy, acceptance, maybe even relief. Luke 19:6 tells us that he came down quickly and received Jesus with great joy.

Not everyone shared in this joy. People saw Jesus going to the home of the hated and corrupt tax collector and they were actually offended. They likely were thinking “Why would Jesus hang out with the town lowlife? And why not hang out with us?” We don’t know whether Zacchaeus heard the murmurings of the crowd or not. What we know is that he was so moved by Jesus’ gesture of kindness towards him that he announced to Him: “Behold, Lord, the half of my good I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” (19:8) Zacchaeus was not only sorry for his sins, he wanted to repent and repay. And basically he decided that in order to do that, he would give away almost everything that he had. He realized that his wealth and the deceitful way he acquired it were the things that were separating him from God.

The response of Jesus is phenomenal. He tells Zacchaeus and everyone else within ear-shot, “TODAY salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus, since I [Jesus] came for the explicit purpose of seeking and saving the lost,” and the lost sheep in Jericho that day was Zacchaeus. He didn’t tell him that he would be on probation for a period of time, or that he had to work his way back into the good graces of God slowly. He offered Zacchaeus restoration that very day, without delay.

Zacchaeus would later become the first bishop of Caesarea. ( He is honored as a saint of the church and his feastday is April 20. Zacchaeus is an example of a very flawed person who repented and changed his life around. Without friends, without morals, he only had wealth going for him. He turned it around by getting rid of his wealth, the thing that was holding him back. This is not to say that wealth is bad or that wealth is the thing that holds people back. This is what was holding Zacchaeus back from the life God was calling him to have. Let us use the example of Zacchaeus to, first, not feel disheartened if we feel far from God. And second, let us use whatever disheartens us as motivation to correct what needs correcting, assured that God wants to bring salvation to us and to embrace us without delay.

The entire story of Zacchaeus rests on the word “today.” Jesus told Zacchaeus that He wanted to come to his house that day. And after Zacchaeus repented, Jesus said that salvation had come to his house “today” as well, without delay.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
I have fallen beneath the painful burden of the passions and the corruption of material things; and I am hard pressed by the enemy.
(Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode One, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

Jesus sees us up in our “sycamore tree,” and very much wants us to come down so He can be with us. We need to have urgency to clean up what needs cleaning up in our lives, assured that Jesus is eager to restore us and embrace us TODAY!


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here:


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