Word had come that Jesus was about to pass through Jericho. His reputation preceded him, and a mingling of the curious and the pious thronged the roadside. Some might hope that he would rally the Israelites to rebel against Rome; others that he would lead them back to a purer service to God. All might be anxious to see what he looked like, perhaps hear him speak, perhaps witness a miracle.
Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector (thus labeled by Jewish society a sinner) and also a wealthy man (people believed that he had enriched himself at the expense of his fellow Jews), was curious to see Jesus. But to see Jesus, he has to be resourceful: He is short in stature and the huge crowd in Jericho blocks him.
So he climbs a sycamore tree and has a bird’s eye view of Jesus and the crowd below. Soon came the moment that would change His life. Zacchaeus gets the surprise of his life when he hears Jesus calling him by name and asking to stay at his house. The crowd was scandalized and perplexed when the two of them greeted one another like old friends, shocked when Jesus crossed the threshold of Zacchaeus’ house.
Alone with Jesus, Zacchaeus proved to be a model for repentance sinners and promised to do restitution: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” Jesus recognizes his genuine faith in God and transformed state by, declaring him as “son of Abraham,” enjoying the rights to the promises God made to Abraham and his descendants for ever.
Jesus, the one sought by Zacchaeus, is really the first seeker. He is “the Son of Man (who) has come to seek and to save what was lost.” He takes the initiative and is not deterred by the crowd’s disapproval. He knows his mission: to get people to know God who does not condemn, but call sinners for healing and salvation.
Jesus is vindicated by Zacchaeus’ conversion and promise of restitution. Zacchaeus, who was before a hated tax collector, by God’s graciousness and goodness now becomes the model of the sinner who repents and whose values are transformed.