I’m sure we remember that we have been making this journey with Jerusalem over these past weeks, throughout the summer and now through the fall, and Jesus has been trying to show us what happens in a dramatic way to Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel. Jesus has been calling us to conversion. At the very beginning of his public life in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says, “The reign of God is at hand. Change your lives.” In other words, be converted — change — and today, we have a very dramatic example of such a conversion.
You may wonder: Why did the people grumble when Jesus went to the house of Zacchaeus? Well, he was what they would think of — and in many ways, it’s true — a public sinner. He was the chief tax collector, which meant he worked for the Roman authorities, the occupying power. The people, the Jews for the most part, hated these Romans, who occupied their land and were very harsh and cruel.
Zacchaeus was one who collected the taxes for them. Not only, like many of the tax collectors, he was the chief, and that meant he probably got a little bit of payoff from the others who worked for him because they all extorted more than they had a right to, but then they could keep the rest. So these tax collectors were really not a very attractive group of people. They were, for all practical purposes, public sinners.
So what happens? Zacchaeus is in the tree watching for Jesus, and when Jesus comes along, Jesus has been looking for him … because he looks up at Zacchaeus and says, “Come down. Today, I’m going to visit your house, dwell with you,” and this astounded the people.…