Friday Focus: The Most Gracious Guest
A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a 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 to save the lost." - Luke 19: 1-10
We always appreciate it when a gracious dinner guest brings a bottle of wine, some dessert or flowers. And we really appreciate it when a very gracious guest shows up with all three. In this week’s gospel, Jesus is the most gracious guest that ever was or ever will be. No wine. No dessert. No flowers. Gracious Jesus literally brings grace with him. Flowers fade. Dessert and wine are momentary pleasures. The grace of God lives forever.
In this gospel Jesus is passing through Jericho and Zacchaeus, a local tax collector, is curious. He wants to see what all the excitement is about. So he climbs a tree to get a better look at Jesus. And rather than just seeing, he is seen. Christ looks up and looks right into Zacchaeus’ heart. And what he sees isn’t pretty. Zacchaeus is an opportunist, a sinner, grown wealthy by skimming and squeezing. He’s despised as a traitorous agent of Rome’s oppression. All in all, Zacchaeus is not a likely candidate for God’s grace. But Jesus is the master of the unlikely. As he has done so many times before, he reaches out to a sinner. He calls up to Zacchaeus and invites himself into the tax collector’s home.
Why Zacchaeus? Why pick out this tax hustler for special attention? Surely in the whole city of Jericho, there are many, many others more worthy of a visit. So not surprisingly, the whole crowd begins to grumble. They had heard that Jesus was blessed. He was supposed to be special and here he wants to hang out with the town crook. What’s that all about?
At this point it’s useful to remember, that this isn’t reality TV. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are no throw-away lines; no meaningless gestures. Every miracle, every parable, every account is specifically constructed for our instruction and sanctification. Jesus is talking directly and deliberately right to us. He is telling us that God loves us in our sins. He does not withhold his love til we get organized and make ourselves presentable. He wants us to know that whatever our condition, God loves every one of us. None is more or less important. He rejoices in the faithful, while he relentlessly pursues the fallen. The grumbling crowd mirrors the reaction of the Prodigal’s elder brother. They tell themselves: We’re better than him? Why is he getting special attention? They fail to appreciate that the love of God is infinite. When it is bestowed on any single one of us, it does not reduce the unbounded love available for you or me, and all of his children down through the ages.
At Christ’s call, Zacchaeus drops from the tree… and lands on his feet a completely different person. Christ has told him: That today I must abide in thy house. And indeed from that moment, long before Jesus ever crosses this sinner’s thresh-hold; his grace has entered into and transformed Zacchaeus. Filled with grace, Zacchaeus immediately vows to make four-fold restitution to all those he has cheated. He further pledges to give half his wealth to the poor. Jesus rejoices: Today salvation has come to this house… for the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.
What does this gospel tell us? Jesus is coming. He’s looking for you. He’s inviting himself into your heart. Right now, as you are… run to him. Welcome him. He will enter your life and fill it with grace.