He was a wealthy man in a wealthy city. However, instead of being popular, he was looked down on by his neighbors and fellow citizens. Not just because he was vertically challenged, but because of his occupation. He was an executive, leading a large group of finance professionals contracted with the federal government to collect revenue. Their income was based on revenue collected and so they assessed excessive amounts and even held back some of the funds collected for their own use. They were totally excluded socially and were viewed with loathing. Facebook accounts with zero friends.
From time to time, he felt uneasy about their business practices. He had heard about a religion teacher who was sharing a fresh view of God and was intrigued, especially since one of his colleagues had gone to work for this teacher. Hearing that he was making an appearance in town, the man left his office, feeling drawn to see for himself.
The teacher was popular and had a large following, so much so that it was impossible to see him. In desperation, the man predicted the route the crowd was taking and climbed a tree, hoping to get a glimpse of him and hear his teaching. Moments later, the surging crowd paused. Startled, the man looked down to find the teacher staring up into the tree just a few feet away! Jesus said,
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Luke 19
And Zacchaeus, amid the harsh stares and cruel comments of the crowd, confessed publicly what his heart had been leading him to do for some time:
“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
And Jesus’ reply tells us more about His Father:
“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
In a few short moments, Jesus blew right through social prejudice by declaring His wish for a close friendship with Zacchaeus. By simply being in Jesus’ presence, Zacchaeus responded with honest confession. Jesus, ever inclusive, not exclusive, told everyone that Zacchaeus was already a part of His family, not because of any good actions on his part, but because of an invitation he responded to. An invitation that stands open to me and to you. That’s grace, people. Just like Zacchaeus, we can’t earn it, don’t deserve it. Can’t you hear Jesus saying to the critical crowd, “People, don’t you get it? My being here- the whole point is to reconnect you to Me and to My Father, your Father! My wanting you back doesn’t depend on what you’ve done, who you’ve been, how far you’ve wandered. You are as close as a “Yes”.
Zacchaeus said “Yes” to Jesus and in that instant was affirmed as part of the family. And in that same instant, the Spirit started freely working to change him from the inside out, not to make him more deserving of God’s love, but just he wanted to look more like the One Who loved him first. Grace.