The story of Zacchaeus and Jesus from Matthew 19:1-10 (NIV) is probably well-known because of a Vacation Bible School song about a meeting between the two. “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree the Savior for to see, etc.” There is much more to this encounter, however, than the song would suggest.
Zacchaeus was a hated tax collector, labeled a sinner, because tax collectors were notorious for overcharging taxpayers and making themselves wealthy as Zacchaeus had done. Why was Zacchaeus anxious to meet Jesus, willing to climb a tree to get a good look at him? Apparently, Zacchaeus was already familiar with Jesus’s teachings and had determined that he was indeed a sinner. Maybe, though, he wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
But how shocked Zacchaeus must have been when Jesus spotted him perched in a tree and said: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” What?!?!?! Zacchaeus must have thought. I didn’t know it would be quite like this.
Zacchaeus was surely ready for this meeting with Jesus. His repentance was spontaneous. “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.”
As was often the case, the crowd who witnessed this meeting muttered its disapproval of Jesus’s association with a sinner, but Jesus said: “Today Salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Matthew 19:9-10)
Jesus is still seeking and saving. Have we encountered him? Were we ready? Did we change our ways? We’ll encounter him again. Let this story of Zacchaeus dwell in our hearts, so that our next encounter will cause our lives to be changed, perhaps turned upside down.