Jesus intended to just pass through Jericho, but Listen to this! A man named Zacchaeus, who was the chief tax-collector and a very rich man lived there. He wanted to get a look at Jesus for himself, but he was too short and the crowd was too big. So he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up a sycamore tree, so that he could get a good look at Jesus as he was passing by. As Jesus came to the place where the tree was, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry up and get down! I have to stay in your house today.” Zacchaeus hurried down. He was excited at the prospect of welcoming Jesus into his home. When everyone else saw this, they began to murmur and grumble things like, “Why is he going to hang out with such a horrible person?”
Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Listen to this, Sir! I’m giving half of everything I own to the poor! And I’m going to pay back anyone that I may have cheated four times the amount that I took from them!”
Jesus said to him, “Salvation has come to this house today! After all, even he is one of Abraham’s descendants. The Son of Man came to seek out and save those who are lost.”
Read the text carefully: who is short, Zacchaeus or Jesus? “He wanted to get a look at Jesus for himself, but he was too short and the crowd was too big.” We have been taught to read it as Zacchaeus was short, but it could be that Jesus was short and Zacchaeus could not get close enough to see him because Jesus was short and the crowd was big. MORAL: We ALWAYS read our own presumptions into the text.
The text does not have Zacchaeus saying “I will give half of everything I own to the poor,” but it says “I am giving” suggesting that Zacchaeus was in the habit of giving away half of his wealth and repaying anyone he defrauds four times of what he had taken. MORAL: Jesus may have come to his house because he knows that Zacchaeus is a good man and lives his life in service to God.
If this is the case, then how can Jesus declare that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house? Perhaps salvation had not come to Zacchaeus, who was already living in keeping with the Kingdom of God, which is why he was singled out by Jesus, but because of the crowd who were not — who simply assumed that Zacchaeus was a sinner and a horrible person simply because of his profession.
Zacchaeus was a tax-collector. He was hated as a thief who bid for the tax rate and got to keep whatever extra he collected. One person would say: “I can get $10,000 in taxes from this area.” Another would say: “I can get $12,000.” The latter would get the job. If the tax-collector only raised $10,000, then he would be personally responsible for paying the difference. If he raised more than the $12,000, then he could keep the extra as his pay. Most tax-collectors would charge above the tax rate so that they could earn their living, and many got rich from over-charging their fellow-citizens. So tax-collectors were hated for being thieves, but they were also hated because the money they collected in taxes paid for the Roman occupation. So just by being a tax-collector, Zacchaeus was hated.
People presumed the worst about him because of his profession, not because who he was. People would refuse to believe anything good about him. He was a tax-collector, that is all anyone needed to know to know everything about him (as far as they were concerned.)
We do the same thing. Politicians are liars. Lawyers are immoral. Garbage collectors are uncultured and uneducated. We just assume we know who people are by what they do. Some jobs are respectable, and they make the people who have those jobs respectable. Some jobs or not respectable, and anyone who does those jobs are somehow lacking in worthiness and quality.
“Salvation has come to this house” because the crowd, the judging crowd, the crowd who was following Jesus, who thought they knew who was respectable and who was not (and of course they were in the respectable camp) had their eyes open and saw how they were judging a good man and calling him horrible because of their own limitations and not because of who Zacchaeus was. It was not Zacchaeus who was saved, but the crowd who thought they knew Zacchaeus because of what he did for a living, who judged him unworthy of Jesus, who finally got to see who Zacchaeus was, and who realized that it was their own prejudice and hatred that had kept them from seeing who he really was, who were saved. (Yeah that was a long sentence.)
Salvation came to that house, not because Zacchaeus was converted, but because the crowd who hated Zacchaeus was converted. They saw who he was and changed. The lost were found because the crowd saw how they have refused to see Zacchaeus as the good man he was, but only accepted him as the bad man they decided he had to be because of his job.
When do we continue to be that judging crowd who believes itself to be worthy, and who judges others as unworthy because of external factors? Has salvation come to our houses this day, or do we continue to hate others because of who we like to think they are?
How do we limit others because of who we decide they are because of what they have to do to earn a living? How do we limit ourselves by seeing others through our hatred and presumptions, and never allowing ourselves to see others for who they really are?