He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was 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 save the lost."
"Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he!" Does that song immediately jump into anyone else's head anytime they read this story in Luke? (If you have no idea what I'm talking about check out the song here.) I grew up singing that song in Sunday School, though these days I can only ever remember the first verse. Subsequently, often the only thing I remember about Zacchaeus is that he was a wee little man.
But Zacchaeus was so much more than just a wee man. He was a tax collector, which is usually Bible code for pretty big time sinner. Tax collectors were known for being corrupt, often cheating people out of far more than what they actually owed, in order to line their own pockets. Most people went well out of their way to avoid tax collectors and certainly would never have considered them worthy company for a meal. Jesus, as we well know, is not most people.
What strikes me on reading this today is that it is almost immediately upon meeting Jesus that Zacchaeus changes. They haven't even made it to dinner yet when Zacchaeus is promising to give away half of his possessions and pay back anyone he has defrauded with four times as much. It didn't take a long conversation or any persuading or crafty manipulation. A simple encounter with Christ was enough for Zacchaeus to turn his life around on a dime.
Was it the power of Christ? Yes. Was it the power of a simple invitation to relationship? I think also, yes. Zacchaeus would have been reviled and despised by everyone he interacted with on a daily basis. The invitation from Jesus would have been one of the only loving and gracious interactions he had experienced in a long time. And that was enough to change his heart. Let this be a reminder to us when it comes to those we would rather not interact with - there is power in relationship.
Lord of all, sinners and saints alike, we give thanks that you seek to remain in relationship with us. Help us to reach out to others to offer ourselves in relationship, for it is there we will experience fully the love of Christ. Amen.