“Zacchaeus was a wee little man… a wee little man was he… he climbed up in a Sycamore tree, the Lord he wanted to see…”
That’s was pretty much my knowledge of the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. When my kids were little, that was a catchy little song we sang about this wayward little man who climbed up in a tree to see Jesus passing by. Somehow they ended up having dinner together or something.
So when we read the story together a few nights ago, we were open to learning some new things about this guy.
Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:1-10
The head tax collector made his money from taking what he could from his fellow Jews and giving it to the Romans. Not a popular guy. This short little man may not have had stature, but he was rich and he was hated. I wonder why he even wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus at all. Maybe sheer curiosity. Maybe something inside his small little heart thought this really could be the promised Messiah. Whatever the reason, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up a tree in order to see this Jesus.
“How did Jesus know his name?” one of my boys asked. Something I didn’t even notice. Jesus, surrounded by a huge, pushing crowd of Pharisees and do-gooders, noticed this little guy up a tree and addressed him by name. “Zacchaeus!” What he must have thought being addressed by name! So it is for all of us – Jesus seeks us out (even when we are up a tree so to speak) and He calls us by name! He seeks out the sinner, the outcast, the short people… and he calls us by name.
The next thing we noticed was how strange it was that Jesus invited Himself over to this tax collectors house for dinner. He called Zacchaeus down from his tree and said “lets go hang out!” With all the people vying for Jesus’ attention and time, He goes and chooses this guy. Maybe Zacchaeus was super proud that he had beat them all out. Maybe he was shocked and scared. We are told that the crowd was “displeased” with the choice Jesus made of where to spend His afternoon. Of course they were. They did not yet understand Jesus came for sinners and those who admit they need a savior. He saw Zacchaeus’ heart even if no one else could.
This must have been some meal. What did they talk about? The passage skips all those details and jumps right to the shocking ending. Zacchaeus suddenly announces he’s giving back all he has stolen and that he’s giving half of what he has to the poor. WHAT?! All this transpired over one meal? Personally, I don’t think Jesus scolded him or told him much of anything. I think the heart of this man was completely changed by simply being in the presence of Christ and His unconditional love. I think Zacchaeus sat at a table with God incarnate and he couldn’t help but be changed. All because Jesus simply said, “I’d like to come to your house for dinner.”
What an amazing and simple thing this was for us to read together. No matter what we have done, no matter how bad or nasty we’ve been, Jesus seeks us out by name and wants to hang out with us.
He doesn’t point a finger and yell at us for our messes. He’s not even mad. Time with Him alone changes hearts. It changes intentions. I kind of wish the details of the story were in there somewhere, but they aren’t. I think the reason is for us to simply understand that spending time in the presence of the Lord is enough. No rules. No formulas. Just go be with Him. He wants our time. It doesn’t have to be fancy, He just desires us.
After a short meal with Jesus, this man stood up and announced he was changing everything. He wasn’t forced. That’s a heart change. Time spent with Him is never wasted. Hearts are changed by the smallest things.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves about things like this. God doesn’t require perfection. He came for the imperfect. He came for us who know we are messed up and messy. Hang out with Him. Commune with Him and abide with Him and who knows what kind of heart change will come of it!