Have you ever wondered how Jesus knew Zacchaeus’ name?
When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today I must stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5)
No one had introduced them. So how does Jesus know?
If you were from Jericho and you discovered the town tax collector who has been robbing you blind via over-collection for your whole life up in a tree, what would you do? Your enemy is up a tree. That’s a very undignified place to be. You’d probably laugh at and taunt this enemy. Jesus knows Zacchaeus’ name because everyone is taunting and making fun of him.
He shifts the hostility of the crowd from Zacchaeus to himself. How is that? He has just passed through Jericho, not accepting the hospitality of the more reputable residents of town. Now that he is on his way out, he decides to bless the house of the tax collector with the opportunity to provide hospitality to himself and his disciples on their way to Passover in Jerusalem. Showing hospitality is an honor the community gives to the community-member who they feel can best provide it. They would never choose the town tax collector.
By going to Zacchaeus’ house, Jesus neither endorses his oppression of the citizens of Jericho, nor does he endorse their loathing of Zacchaeus. Jesus simply shows love.
At dinner Zacchaeus pledges to give 50% of his assets to the poor and to pay back 4 times what he has stolen from anyone. Could he really have fulfilled this pledge. Probably not. If all that he has stolen amounts to 13% of his possessions he will be in negative equity. Why does he say this then? Exaggeration is how sincerity was demonstrated in this time and place. If he had pledged to give some of his possessions to the poor and to pay as much as he could afford back to the people he had cheated, no one would have taken his pledge seriously. Through his exaggeration everyone present knows Zacchaeus is sincerely pledging to clean up his financial act.
Jesus sums up by saying “Salvation has come to this house.” Did you notice that Zacchaeus has not done anything except make a pledge at this point. The religious leaders of Judea at this time required actions before forgiveness could be bestowed. Jesus says salvation has come before Zacchaeus has a chance to act on his words. Jesus affirms Zacchaeus’ acceptance in the eyes of God regardless of what the community thinks.
What is salvation? It is acceptance. It is much more than a moment of decision. Jesus knows that Zacchaeus’ whole life will change, and he accepts him right then as he is. He eats a meal with him. Eating a meal together is a symbol of reconciliation. That’s what Passover, the Last Supper and communion are all about. They are meals that focus on reconciliation and freedom with and through Jesus.
What happened in Jericho after Jesus left? No written source tells us. We can assume that through Jesus’ demonstration of unexpected love to the town tax collector, not only was Zacchaeus’ life changed, but the whole community was changed. Through eating with the town tax collector, Jesus indirectly lifted oppressive tax burdens from the whole community. Jesus was not focusing his love on just one man. He was showing love to the whole community.
Want to learn more? Check out Podcast: Jesus, Bartimaeus, and Zacchaeus.