Zacchaeus was a wealthy Jew who lived in Jericho and made a handsome
living as a tax collector for the Romans. Because of his occupation, he was
viewed by his contemporaries as a sinner before God and a traitor to his country.
Despite his ostracization by fellow Jews, Zacchaeus was not void of spiritual sensitivity. When he learned that Jesus was coming to the area, he determined that he must see the much-heralded Teacher whose preaching, teaching and miracle-working were having such a profound effect.
Because he was short, he climbed a sycamore-fig tree in order to get a good view of Jesus. It must have taken a good deal of fortitude for this rich, sophisticated businessman to throw caution to the wind, to run ahead of Jesus and His entourage and to scamper up a tree as he probably had not done since boyhood.
Amazingly, when Jesus reached the spot, He took notice of the figure hidden among the branches, and He addressed Zacchaeus.
The mass of humanity Crowding around the Master would not have expected Jesus to notice Zacchaeus, much less address him. But God Incarnate had thoughts that were not merely human thoughts. His ways, as the prophet Isaiah declared, are not our ways. So Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus.
Again the crowd was amazed. They might have expected Jesus to rebuke Zacchaeus for his traitorous ways, for serving as an agent of the Roman government, for seeking personal gain by charging more than the assessed tax. There is no way they could have been prepared to hear Jesus say: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately, I must stay at your house today.”
It was an invitation Zacchaeus could not refuse. We can assume that the Holy Guest spoke lovingly and directly to the chief tax collector of the district. And we can assume that the divine Visitor outlined the plan of salvation. These assumptions are based on the results of their meeting. We know, first of all, that Zacchaeus found salvation, for Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). We know, also, that a great transformation had taken place in Zacchaeus. This man, who had accumulated a fortune through dishonest means, now stated freely, “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” (Luke 19:8).
What a marvelous change came to the life of one who had an unexpected encounter with Jesus Christ. And such unexpected encounters are still happening!
Robert E. Thomson, The War Cry