This is a delightfully touching gospel story about the boundless love that God has for sinners. It shows the forgiveness that he offers, with open arms, to the worst of us. Zacchaeus was the most hated man in the community. People boycotted him and wouldn’t give him the time of the day because he was a cheat, a tax collector for the Roman forces of occupation. Popular estimation had written him off as lost. Yet Jesus made him feel special. He saw beyond the idle curiosity of the little man up the tree, into the pain and turmoil of his heart. He made the first move and called: “Hurry, come down, I must stay at your house today.” His whole being called out to Zacchaeus and the man’s selfishness crumbled before the gaze of Christ. Zacchaeus desperately wanted to get outside of himself and make a break with the past. He was wealthy but not happy and he saw Jesus as the answer to his troubled conscience. The encounter made him mend his ways and think about his behaviour in a new light. He now saw something more worthwhile in life than lining his pockets with money. Close contact with Jesus had awakened in him religious impulses and opened his eyes to his real faults.
The message that Jesus is trying to get across to us is that nobody is beyond redemption. There are no limits to the possibility of salvation offered by Jesus. God’s grace is able to turn a life upside down and change a sinful person. The greater the sinner the more forgiving God is. There is no past, however shameful, that cannot be given a fresh start. Lurking within each of us there is a sinful Zacchaeus, seeking out the Lord to save us and give us new hope.
The call of Jesus, “Hurry, because I must stay in your house today,” goes out to everyone in the congregation. We must take full advantage of his passing, by acknowledging our sins and opening our hearts to his goodness. The real focus of the story is on the last line of the gospel: “The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Before Jesus, all people are sinners like Zacchaeus. The Lord has come to save you and me and he meets us at the point of our need, with no strings attached. He is waiting to change our lives as soon as we show a willingness to open the door of our hearts and let his salvation get to work in the very centre of our being.
Fr Peter Tipene