2 March 2024

Jesus makes time for Zacchaeus

Captain Tom Dunham

Captain Tom Dunham reveals how a compassionate encounter changes everything.

Key text

Our three-year-old son loves imaginative play. My wife and I are often drawn into his worlds, taking on the roles of firefighters, nurses, knights, superheroes and even PAW Patrol characters.

Imagining ourselves in the stories of Scripture can sometimes be a helpful way to understand and learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We could enter the story as onlookers, watching what takes place. Or we could imagine ourselves as one of the people in the narrative.

Taking the well-known story of Zacchaeus, let’s consider what it must have been like to be him, a member of the crowd and Jesus. Can we glean new insights from their different perspectives?

First, let’s imagine we’re Zacchaeus, the wealthy tax collector. As a chief collector, his wealth comes from people working under him, with extra takings on the side – a common practice of the day.

In worldly terms, he is successful and has everything he needs to live comfortably. Yet, because he is a tax collector, many people despise him. Imagine what that must be like.

Despite his success and wealth, something leads Zacchaeus to be curious about Jesus, and he seeks him out. Because of the large crowd and his short stature, Zacchaeus climbs a sycamore-fig tree to ensure a good vantage point.

Imagine sitting in the tree as Jesus comes into view. Then imagine the moment when Jesus suddenly looks into your eyes. Not only does he see you, but he also speaks to you by name and initiates a deeper connection by asserting that he is coming to your house.

This face-to-face encounter leads tax-collecting Zacchaeus from a life of greed and selfishness to a new life of kindness and generosity.

Pause and reflect

  • What sparks your curiosity about Jesus and the new life he offers?
  • What attitudes do you have that Jesus needs to transform?
A photo shows the leaves of a fig tree.

Luke 19:10

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Read Luke 19

Next, let’s imagine we’re in the crowd closely following Jesus. Each person rushes to get a glimpse of this man, whom we have heard is healing and teaching like no other. Maybe we notice Zacchaeus in the tree and wonder why one of those chief tax collectors has shown up.

But then we see Jesus looking up at him. Surely, Jesus will condemn the behaviour and attitude of this tax collector and the way he treats others. But no! Instead, with interest and kindness, Jesus invites Zacchaeus down from the tree and, that very day, Zacchaeus welcomes Jesus into his house and his life.

The crowd don’t think Zacchaeus deserves a personal visit from the city’s guest of honour. Outraged, the people begin to mutter: ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner’ (v7).

We’re not told, however, the reaction of the crowd as Zacchaeus offers to give back four times the amount he has taken. When he later goes public with his private resolve and stands before those he’s swindled with a handful of cash, might their public muttering change to private shrieks of joy?

As the crowd go home, how do they reflect on what they have witnessed that day?

Pause and reflect

  • How do you make space for other people to encounter Jesus without any expectations on them?
  • Are you willing to rejoice with those who are welcomed into the Kingdom?
  • Are you willing to forgive them as Jesus forgives them?

Finally, let’s imagine we’re Jesus. As Jesus comes into Jericho and stands among the crowd, I wonder what he sees as he gazes around. At what point does he become aware of Zacchaeus? Why does Jesus look up into the tree?

As Jesus’ gaze meets the eyes of Zacchaeus, he recognises him and calls him by name, inviting him out of the tree. Jesus is interested in knowing Zacchaeus personally but doesn’t want the encounter to remain in the public space. He wants to spend time with him and invites himself into Zacchaeus’s house.

I wonder if Jesus is aware of the mutterings of the crowd. I wonder what his response is.

We don’t know all the details of his conversation with Zacchaeus, but verses 8 and 9 contain the take-away points: Zacchaeus repents of his sin and offers to make restitution. In response, Jesus assures him that – having displayed faith as Abraham did – ‘salvation has come to this house’.

As followers of Jesus, we want to become more like him. While we recognise that we can’t personally save or restore anyone, we know we can point people to Jesus so they can receive fullness of life just as Zacchaeus did that day.

Pause and reflect

  • Are we aware of people on the fringes of our corps who are looking in?
  • How might we best respond to them?
  • How will people see Jesus in us as we go deeper in our relationships with others?

As we imagine ourselves in this well-known story, may we continue to be curious about the ways of Jesus. May we encourage others as they encounter Jesus. And may we model kindness and love as we grow in our relationships with those around us.

Bible study by

Tom Dunham

Captain Tom Dunham

Corps Officer, Plymouth Exeter Hall Whitleigh

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