“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.” (Luke 19:5-6, NRSV)
Do you remember learning the Zacchaeus song in church as a child? “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.”
Just as Zacchaeus was short in stature, he was short in character. As a tax collector, he not only took money from his fellow Jews to give to the Romans, but he cheated them as well. He marked up their taxes so he could take some for himself. The fact that Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector only added to the disdain for a corrupt man.
Zacchaeus was not a very popular figure in town.
This is why it was surprising when Jesus stopped to speak to Zacchaeus AND invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home.
We read the story so quickly, we miss an important word in the passage. In verse 5, Jesus uses the word “stay” when he talks about his visit to Zacchaeus’ house. The changes that occurred in Zacchaeus did not happen during an hour-long lunch. It took a little longer than that.
Jesus had come to stay for awhile.
Jesus starts not with a fiery sermon or the steps to salvation, he starts by sharing a meal and a conversation. Instead, Jesus first engages Zacchaeus and gets to know the “wee little man” for himself, not what other people think of him.
Zacchaues was no longer a stranger or “that tax collector guy.” He was now a friend. And through the relationship that was built, he came to know Jesus personally.
Who do you know who is considered a stranger or an “other”? How could you begin forming a relationship with that person?
May we bear witness to the love of God in this world, so that those to whom love is a stranger will find in us generous friends. Amen.
United Methodist Book of Worship, The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992