The Son of Man Came to Seek and to Save the Lost
How many of us who grew up in church remember singing about the “wee little man?” Such a song makes Zacchaeus sound so cuddly and lovable, but the fact of the matter is that he was hardly that at all. He was not just a tax collector but a “chief” tax collector at that, and he had enriched himself by fleecing the people. He was justly despised.
But something was happening within Zacchaeus. He knew of Jesus and the wonderful things he had done; he wasn’t like everyone else. So he wanted to see Jesus. This is the way God works salvation in people: It begins with a stirring within, a drawing of one to the Father by the Holy Spirit (John 6:44). God was busy reeling in this big fish who was such a great sinner that no one else could stand him. There was only one problem: This great big sinner was such a very small man. It’s amusing when you stop and think about it; this man who could bully others out of their money was actually quite small, someone no one would fear had he not the Roman government standing behind him. He’s so small he must run ahead and climb up into a tree to see Jesus “pass that way.” I have to think it would be considered somewhat unconventional if not downright humiliating for such a wealthy man to be seen climbing a tree on account of his stature. And then we see the divine element in the account: Jesus fully intended to pass that way – to see Zacchaeus, the man no one else wanted to see, the man who wouldn’t be seen had he not taken the initiative to climb a tree. Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name saying that he “must stay at [his] house today.”
And that was all it took. Upon Jesus’ stated intention of entering his home and dining with him, Zacchaeus is saved, the proof of which, and we assume carried out, was his giving half his goods to the poor and restoring those he had defrauded fourfold. In other words, Zacchaeus’ salvation is accompanied by faith and repentance, as all saving events must be. And when the people grumble, Jesus reminds them that this man also is a son of Abraham. We must remember that the sinner standing over there whom we can’t stand is a person created in the very image of God, a defaced and marred image to be sure, but no more than our own. And it is exactly this person God wants to save because “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” just as he did us. No one is beyond the pale; no one is out of our Lord’s reach. It is just for these that he came to save, just for these that he went to the cross. He saved us; he is fully capable of saving others. For with God, all things are possible, even the salvation of men (Luke 18:27).