Following yesterday’s passage about the Pharisees and teachers of the law grumbling about Jesus welcoming tax collectors and sinners, we now see Jesus actually inviting himself into a tax collector’s home and then all the people grumbling. This is not just a regular tax collector, but a chief tax collector who was very rich, so maybe that’s why more people were grumbling than just the Pharisees.
We know this story well, because of the chief tax collector’s height. He was a short man, so when he wanted to see Jesus, he had to climb a tree. He just wanted to see who Jesus was, and he got a lot more than expected. Jesus singles out Zacchaeus, and invites himself to his home. He doesn’t do this in a casual tone, but as a command with urgency. “Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” It reminds us of the story of the bleeding woman who secretly touched Jesus’s cloak. She also got more than expected. After she quietly touched Jesus amongst the crowd, Jesus sort of obnoxiously singles her out. (Remember the disciples’s reactions were like, “Really?! You want to find someone who touched your cloak? Really?!”) This story of Zacchaeus is similar. Jesus doesn’t let anyone who wants to see him pass by. He singles them out. He personally talks to them.
This story is a great conversion story. After Jesus comes to him and after receiving Jesus’s love and grace, Zacchaeus now is able to do amazing things. He is going to give away half of his possessions! We know how hard it is to give away 10 percent of our income, but to give away half? For a rich tax collector to do that seems almost impossible! That’s probably what is going on in the minds of the crowd. Even though it is not a miracle, it sort of is! How can this be? It is through the salvation of Jesus. He came and transformed the person that he is able to do impossible things. Jesus does the miracle of changing a person’s heart. He comes to seek and save the lost. And also importantly, Jesus is the one who justifies us. It is not the people around us or what we do that justifies us. It is only Jesus.