In today’s gospel we hear Our Lord outline his purpose in coming to us. He has come “to seek out and to save what was lost”. And he saves Zacchaeus by eating a meal with him and drawing from him the promise to make good his past life of evil. It is by welcoming the Lord into our lives that our hearts are enlarged by him so that we too, can make the kind of promise that Zacchaeus made.
We’ve just heard a delightfully touching gospel account about the boundless love that God has for sinners. It shows the forgiveness that God offers with open arms, even to the very worst of us. Zacchaeus was probably the most hated man in his community. Ordinary people would have boycotted him, and they wouldn’t even give him the time of day, because he was a cheat and a thief, a quisling and a collector of taxes for the Roman forces of occupation. He was less than ‘nothing’ as far as his own people were concerned, and they would have written him off as well and truly lost. Yet Our Lord made him feel special. Our Lord saw beyond the idle curiosity of the little man perched in the tree, he saw into the pain and the turmoil of his heart. Our Lord made the first move and called out to him: “Zacchaeus, hurry down for I must stay in your house today’. So it was that the little man’s selfishness crumbled before Our Lord’s concern for him. Clearly, Zacchaeus desperately wanted to change his life and to make a break with the past. He was wealthy, but he wasn’t happy, and he saw Jesus as an answer to his troubled conscience. The encounter enabled him to mend his ways and to think about his life and his behaviour in a new light. He now saw something more worthwhile in life than simply lining his pockets with money. Close contact with Jesus had awakened in him religious impulses that had laid dormant for years and opened his eyes to his real faults and failings.
The message Our Lord is trying to get across to us is that nobody is beyond redemption. There are absolutely no limits to the possibility of salvation offered by the Lord Jesus. God’s grace is able to turn a life upside down and change a sinful person for the better. And the greater the sinner the more forgiving God is. There is no past, however shameful, that cannot be given a fresh start. We discovered last Sunday that just as there is a Pharisee lurking within each one of us, so there is a sinful Zacchaeus, seeking out the Lord to save us and give us new hope.
Our Lord’s call: “Hurry, because I must stay in your house today,” goes out to all of us. And so we must take full advantage of Our Lord passing by, by acknowledging our sins and opening our hearts to his love and goodness. In fact, the real focus of the story is in the very last line: “The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Before God we are all sinners like Zacchaeus. But God sent his Son to save us, and he meets us at the very point of our need, with no strings attached. He is waiting to change our lives as soon as we show a willingness to open the door of our hearts and let his salvation get to work in the very centre of our being.