He [Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’ [from Luke 19]
Now that you have the “Zacchaeus” children’s song stuck in your head (you’re welcome), read this story again as a grown-up person of faith.
Zacchaeus wasn’t just a tax collector; he was a chief tax collector. And he was rich. Other than the fact that he was short, that’s all we are told about him. We can assume that he became rich by overcharging people on their taxes, and pocketing the extra. That’s what tax collectors in that culture did. It’s why they were hated, and why Zacchaeus was called “a sinner” in the narrative.
This children’s story of a short guy who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus, turns into an adult story of sin and salvation. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’”
What is salvation? It’s a term that in our culture has too often been far too shallow. A person can say she’s saved, then act or say anything she wants. Some parts of Christianity assume salvation is all about believing.
But this story gives a different definition. Salvation is far more than a change of beliefs. It is also a change of mind, heart, words, and actions. Jesus is reacting to the words and proposed actions of Zacchaeus. He acknowledges his change of mind and heart by saying that he’ll make amends to those he’s harmed, above and beyond what he’s taken from them. Even more deeply, he immediately thinks of the poor and promises to make a deep-pocketed gift to help people find a way out of hunger and poverty. He instinctively knows he’ll be following God’s heart when he does this.
Mind, heart, words, acts.
Oh, if only we who claim to be Jesus people could reflect a little more Zacchaeus and a little less pride. If only we could show how we’ve been saved to share what we have.
Saved. It means something.
© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier