Luke 19:1 (Jesus) entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 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.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 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.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Zacchaeus presents us with an interesting contrast with the rich young ruler in chapter 18 who, when challenged to sell his belongings and follow Jesus, would not do it. The young ruler was “righteous” in that he had kept the commandments of the Lord since his youth. I expect he didn’t perceive the need for himself to go the extra step of selling his possessions – so he didn’t.
Zacchaeus on the other hand appears to have no problem letting go of his wealth. In fact he offers to give away a large chunk of his wealth without even being asked, which seems strange for a “chief tax collector” who has likely committed himself to accumulating wealth his entire life. Why the difference between the two?
My guess is that Zacchaeus would never have thought of himself of righteous. I mean, the only way you became wealthy as a tax collector was if you collected from the people more than was necessary to fulfill his commitment to Rome. People resented getting squeezed for more than they actually owed and so despised tax collectors in general. They were people who plundered their fellow Jews on behalf of Rome.
V.9 “Today salvation has come to this house…”
Zacchaeus, keenly aware of his own sinfulness and need of grace, accepts Jesus. The righteous ruler does not. It’s another example of the wrong kind of people being received into the kingdom of God ahead of the right kind of people. The first will be last and the last will be first.
Lord Jesus, count me among the sinners in desperate need of your grace and mercy. Without you I have no hope in this life. Receive me into your kingdom. Amen.