He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 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.”
The tax collectors like Zaccchaeus and Levi are my favorite characters in the gospels because they turn their lives in a complete 180º. Zacchaeus was rich because he took more in taxes than the government required so that he could keep some for himself. Sort of like a commission, I guess, except that it often resulted in extortion of the poor. He who was already rich would demand everything a poor man owned, otherwise he would sell him in to slavery. But after he meets Jesus, Zacchaeus completely repents. He promises not only to give away his wealth, but to pay back the people he wronged four times! I hope he followed through, which we know is the hardest part to do. Can you imagine how difficult that would be to do? But I think he definitely did. I imagine he took the time to repay every last person until he was no longer wealthy.
And then Jesus declares Zacchaeus’s salvation. Here is a son of Abraham, he says, here is a man who is faithful to God. Perhaps he has not always been that way, but that’s the whole reason Jesus came! To help those who need it!
I guess I love these stories because if a man like Zacchaeus can change, than anyone can change, even me. Maybe someday I will have my eyes so opened to the error of my ways that I will finally be able to change them.