Zacchaeus may only appear as a story in Luke’s gospel (Luke 19:1-10), but it is a familiar story to many – and perhaps familiarity does not help us see its value. Jesus is going through town when he calls to a figure up a tree to come down and offer him a meal. The crowd don’t like it – this is a Tax collector (collaborator with the Roman occupying power, cheat, outsider . .).
Apparently Jesus has seen more in this man. Zacchaeus not only gets down and offers a meal, but he offers to make up to anyone he has cheated, and gives away half his money! This is a real turn-around (repentance, in Christian language). Jesus emphasises his ministry “to seek out and to save the lost”, something we may be glad of, but which the crowd are suspicious of. The disciples (then and now) have to learn both what Jesus is doing, and who is part of this new “Kingdom” family. Who is “safe”?
The picture we may miss is of the disciples, Jesus, with Zacchaeus and perhaps the blind beggar (healed on the way into town) eating with a group of doubtful characters, some of whom may be about to follow Zacchaeus into a new life. Outside – by their own choice, but perhaps unaware how serious that choice is – are those who prefer to criticise and stick with “their own kind”.
Safety is – learning with the disciples.