And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. And when they saw it they all murmured, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 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.”
In the last reflection, we met Zacchaeus and reflected on his desire to know Jesus. The story doesn’t end with Zacchaeus’ curiosity. Presumably, there were thousands of people in the crowd in Jericho that day, as there was no place for Zacchaeus to go other than up a tree. Yet the eyes of Jesus picked out Zacchaeus from the crowd. Jesus went to him and told him to “Make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5) He didn’t tell him, “I’m disappointed with you, Zacchaeus.” He didn’t tell him “hey, stop by the office one day” or “make an appointment with one of My disciples.” He told him “I want to stay in YOUR house and I want to do that TODAY.” Jesus had a sense of immediacy towards Zacchaeus. He loved Zacchaeus immediately and unconditionally.
The reaction of the crowd was skepticism, if not downright anger. All of these people had crowded into the streets to see Jesus, hoping just to get a glimpse of Him, maybe a moment of His time to receive a blessing. And here was Jesus telling Zacchaeus that He wanted to spend the day with him. “Why Lord,” they asked, “would you want to be the guest of that sinful man, the thief who steals from us?”
Zacchaeus was moved by Christ’s love for him. And that motivated him to repent, to change his ways, right then and there. He not only wanted to make it right with Jesus, he wanted to make it right with everyone from whom he had stolen. To begin, he offered to repay four times over the value of what he had stolen from people. And then the rest of his possessions, he wanted to give half of what was left to the poor. That was not only repentance but massive restitution, followed by massive generosity. Indeed, he changed his entire life around. And why? Because he not only wanted to know Jesus, he knew that Jesus wanted to know him.
Jesus then said to Zacchaeus and the crowd, “Today salvation has come to this house.” (19:9) There was not going to be any period of punishment or probation. The forgiveness of Jesus would be immediate because Zacchaeus’ heart changed that day. Jesus concluded by saying “The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (19:10) and the lost person that day in Jericho was Zacchaeus.
For those of us who are wounded in body or in soul, Jesus sees you. Jesus sees us in our unique struggles. If Jesus can pick Zacchaeus out of a crowd of thousands, He can pick us out of our crowds. He sees those who struggle alone. He sees those in the hospital beds. He sees those with addictions. He sees those who are lost, anxious, and sad. And as with Zacchaeus, Jesus desires to be with us, today.
The turning point in the story of Zacchaeus was not Jesus seeing Zacchaeus, or even when He told him He wanted to stay in his house. The key moment of the story was when Zacchaeus decided to come down from the tree and accept Christ’s invitation. The key moment in our story is the moment we decide to come down from our tree of despair and struggle and accept Christ’s invitation to be with Him. He desires to be with each of us, even if we are challenged, even if we are very sinful. It doesn’t matter, Christ desires to be with each of us.
We can all receive Him in humility when we come down from our “trees” and accept His invitation. We can all receive Him in repentance, when we become like Zacchaeus, desiring to right the wrongs when we become generous rather than self-serving.
The Gospel passage of Zacchaeus not only calls us to individual repentance, but it calls on us as Christians, and broadly, as a Church, to see other people in their struggles and help them. There are lots of people who have climbed up trees of struggle and shame, believing that they don’t fit with the crowd. There are lots of people who are lost. Can we see them? Are we looking for them? When Christ said that He came to seek and to save the lost, this now becomes part of our work as Christians, and as a Church, to seek and to save those who are lost, to find Zacchaeus, to find anyone who is lost, and to find anyone who wants to know Jesus better. The Gospel calls us to have a sense of immediacy, to do that today.
There are many of us who are in the position of Zacchaeus. We feel lost. Will we find the humility to come down from our tree and embrace Christ? We can do this, knowing that He wants to embrace us.
There are many of us who are actually in the position of Jesus. We walk confidently among the crowds. We know Jesus. Are we looking only at the crowd—at our crowd of friends, or fans—or are we looking outside of the crowd, for Zacchaeus, for the one who is lost and desires to be found, for the one who doesn’t know Christ but whose life could be changed if they did.
Jesus sees us in our struggles. He desires to save us. We must desire His salvation. And like Him, we must see others, help them in their struggles, and help to lead them to salvation.
Brighten the lamp of Your light Divine, and gladden through anointing, those who now in faith make haste to receive Your mercy. (3rd Ode)
Come down from your tree and run to Christ, TODAY. Look up at the trees and see if you can find and help “Zacchaeus”, the one who is lost, TODAY.