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.”
Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem. The most important destination in His life and in the history of the world. As always, He intentionally stops and meets sickness with compassion and continues to confront darkness. He stops briefly in Jericho, where his disciples and the crowds following must have thought it a simple pit-stop. There are countless bodies all cramming in the streets to see Jesus before He goes on to do much more important things, certainly! Zacchaeus has heard everything people say about Jesus, but now he has the chance to see Him. He abandons dignity and even risks the dark and ugly looks a tax collector would get — and he was the chief tax collector, marked by wealth and importance.
He climbs a tree, like a small boy would (he’s not tall, so that isn’t far from the mark), just to see Him. He’s heard all about this Jesus, about the things He does, and who He might be for Israel, but whatever his motivation, it is intense enough that he climbs a tree to see over the crowd. The well-dressed and significant chief tax collector, but he gets up into a tree just so he can at least watch Jesus. If he expected to be seen for his wealth and influence, he could certainly have made a fuss, but it didn’t matter if Jesus saw Zacchaeus, just that Zacchaeus could see Him.
Jesus, moving on a mission, certainly He must have bigger things to do, but maybe if I can see Him, that can be enough for me…
He stops beneath Zacchaeus’ tree. The crowd still loud, His disciples wary of their proximity to Jerusalem. The finish line, Jerusalem, is still just as certain as ever. He still stops under the tree to peer up at the man clinging to the branches, like He’d been watching the crowd to find him.
“Zacchaeus, come down, quickly! I must stay at your house, today!”
I must. There are no other options, I don’t want to stay anywhere else, I came here to Jericho just for this. Zacchaeus might not have been able to see Jesus through the Jericho crowd, but Jesus saw him. Jesus came there for Zacchaeus and no one else. In his fashion, Luke gives us no wiggle room but to come to this conclusion, elevating the miraculous, ridiculous, deeply personal affection Jesus has for the one, no matter their social standing, high or low. And, of course, Zacchaeus gets down with joy and speed. It probably was very funny to watch a well-dressed, not-very-tall man half-fall out of a tree as giddily as that.
The crowds start to mumble about Jesus’ choice to spend His time with a “sinner”. But Zacchaeus doesn’t seem to hear them, because the moment his feet touch the ground, he springs up.
“Lord, half of everything I own, I will give to the poor! Oh, oh, and anyone I cheated, they’ll get back what I took, four times as much!”
Jesus saw him and wanted to be with him, specifically, in his own house. Instantly, Zacchaeus is moved to insane generosity. Turning from his way of life, the oppression over others and over his own soul, he can’t help but respond to Jesus this way.
Jesus’ response to Zacchaeus again defies the murmuring bitterness of those who think they know who God should judge and who He should save:
“Today, salvation has come for this man and his household, for he is also a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to find and to save those who are lost.”
Jesus’ whole mission, His calling, His love and obedience-fueled identity, the point of the cross, is to save the lost. He seeks them out, intentionally, with a focus and determination that puts any bloodhound nose to shame. He came to Jericho for Zacchaeus, and nothing else mattered in the moment. It doesn’t matter how you got lost, how long you have been lost, if you still have “lost habits”. Jesus went looking for Zacchaeus until He saved him and his entire household and brought joy. Why?
As He said: “I must.” It is the unchanging character and nature of Jesus to find you. Tree or no tree, wealth or poverty, whether you even know you’re lost, He will find you.