Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and his last stop was a city steeped in Israel’s history, Jericho. But for all its rich heritage it was now a city that was permeated by greed and unfairness and suffered a real lack of good people in charge.
One such leader was a man named Zaccheus. As chief tax collector for the city he had ‘done a deal with the devil’; reclining at the Roman overlord’s table, betraying his own people and making a hefty profit in the process. His gang of thugs collected a crooked kind of GST and kept a side plate of unfair gains for themselves.
To make matters worse, he was a very short man. Because back in those days people took this to mean that God didn’t think much of Zaccheus, so they didn’t either. Yet for all that, he wanted to see Jesus. But no one in the crowd would let him through (and let’s be honest, after what he’d done why would they?!)
But Zaccheus didn’t give up. He ran ahead as fast as his little legs would carry him, until he found a tall tree with low branches and climbed up.
Jesus stopped at that very tree, as if meeting someone there. He looked up and called to Zaccheus above the crowd, “Zaccheus, I greet you by your true name, ‘Innocent One’. Now hurry down as quick as you can. Set a place for me at your table, for you must know me as your brother today. I can’t wait for you to meet our Father!”
Zaccheus hurried down as quickly as he could. He had never tasted acceptance or forgiveness without buying it. He joyfully made Jesus welcome at his table, knowing that he had been made welcome at God’s.
The crowd couldn’t believe their eyes. They all saw Jesus being ‘tainted’ by entering the house of corrupt and cursed Zaccheus. They muttered and they grumbled, writing Jesus off just like they’d written off Zaccheus. But the truth was even more outrageous than they imagined. It wasn’t that Zaccheus’s brokenness was rubbing off on Jesus, Jesus’s wholeness was rubbing off on Zaccheus! A miraculous exchange was taking place.
Then he stood up from the table and looking at Jesus he said, “Half of everything I have I give to the poor, and if I’ve ripped anyone off, I’ll pay them back four times what I took.”
Jesus beamed proudly at him, saying, “Salvation has come to stay at your place today! You are an open book before God and people, balanced and beautiful”. Then turning to the others he continued, “For Zaccheus, like all of us, is part of God’s family. He is one of Abraham’s blessed sons.”
Then he said, “This is what I came to do; to go after the missing one and bring them back, to find and to free everyone and everything that is lost.”