A Little Man with a Big Story.
In the story of Zaccheus meeting Jesus, Luke gives us one of the most striking examples of transformation found anywhere. Here is this little man with very little character, who had embarked on a self-centered career to enrich himself by aligning with the oppressors. As a chief tax collector, he was probably well known and well despised for his work. Willing to make any kind of deal for personal profit, his internal life was warped and hollow, but no doubt well medicated with good food and wine.
And yet, he was curious. Something inside him wanted to know who this man was that was attracting such crowds; who had a reputation for being smart and good and wise. Luke says Zach joined the crowds “trying to see who Jesus was.” Being the determined little vermin he was, he was not deterred by his inability to see over the crowd. Since his dignity was no longer an issue, he proceeded to climb up a tree to get a better view. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine what would happen next.
Jesus stops, looks up at Zaccheus and says, “You need to come down here because I’m going to your house for dinner!” Implying, of course, “I would really like to get to know you and spend some time with you.” What a corrective experience for a weasel like Zaccheus! He might matter to his tax collector friends. But here he was being treated as if he mattered — by someone who mattered! Someone who was Good, with an authority and reputation to give meaning to his actions. And on top of all that, affirming him publicly to all who knew what a rat he was. For the first time he could remember, someone ascribed worth to Zaccheus.
All he could think of at the moment was, I want to be a good person, too! That life I’ve had is nothing compared to what This Good Man is offering me. I want to get rid of that baggage I have fought so hard to possess. I want to make a difference in my surroundings, for those who have nothing at all.
We have to ask, what made such a big change in Zach? Why did he change so completely in such a short time? The most plausible explanation I can think of is that he experienced Jesus’ care for him in the core of his being. As a result, Zach “came to himself” much like the prodigal, and said to himself that whatever this life is that Jesus is offering, I want it! He was blown away by Jesus’ attention and intention to be with him. Zach suddenly knew that he knew, this is what I really want more than anything. I want to be like Him and be with Him! The rest is merely the result of his being wanted by God.