He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner." But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."
"He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way." (cf. verses 1-4)
Jesus is on his way through the desert directly to Jerusalem. Jericho is the last stop to get there. Here suddenly they say "idou" ( ιδου - Pay attention! Look!), that is, something extraordinary is happening. There is a publican, that is, in the eyes of the Pharisees, a public sinner. He wants to see Jesus. The Greek word "idein" (ιδειν) is in the aorist tense, i.e. the encounter with Jesus is a unique opportunity for this man. He is somehow interested in Jesus. He feels something in him.
But the great hide the sight of the small. Aren't we also sometimes part of the great ones who, through an unchristian attitude, hide the sight of God from the little ones - people who are looking for Jesus, who want to see him because they feel that in Jesus there is an answer to my questions and my problems? This is an important question.
Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus and, in fact, God always grants such a request. "Therefore he ran forward and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. Again, "to see him" is in the aorist tense in Greek, that is, he does not want to miss this unique opportunity. And this meeting is indeed a last unique opportunity because Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, where death awaits him.
Jesus uses this opportunity to address us as followers of Christ. There are always unique opportunities in our lives, which will not come again, where we can meet Jesus. Perhaps we have sometimes been too lazy to climb the sycamore tree and take advantage of an opportunity that presented itself. Perhaps we have conveniently missed many encounters with Jesus. On this point, we must always examine ourselves.
"When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.'" (cf. verse 5)
Jesus comes and sees Zacchaeus first, just like Nathanael at the time, to whom he says as he approaches him: "Even before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree. (Jn 1:48) Jesus was the first to see Zacchaeus. It is love that seeks the lost man, not the other way around. There is again the aorist in Greek to emphasize the uniqueness of the situation, the uniqueness of the opportunity for Zacchaeus.
Jesus sees through the publican's game. He recognizes his attitude, his openness, and his desire to see Jesus, and even more so, his desire for salvation. He sees it through him. At the same time, Jesus looks up, for he is down and Zacchaeus is up. God has stooped very low to address us, who are always so quick to raise ourselves up.
Und weil Jesus den Zachäus ganz und gar erkennt, nennt er ihn bei seinem persönlichen Namen. An dieser Stelle müssen wir immer wieder auch unseren eigenen Namen einsetzen. Then Jesus does something unique, which he has never done before: He invites himself and asks for a quick decision: "Come down quickly, with all speed! This is now an opportunity you can miss because I am going to Jerusalem. But now you still have a chance. This is a very decisive statement. There are such unique chances in our lives. It is important to be awake so as not to miss them.
Jesus does not say: "I want to come to you", but "I must come to you": I must come to you. He speaks with the consciousness of divine destiny. It is God's will that I come to you. It is now your salvation. This is your chance. Every today has its chance in itself, this today also, and you must not waste time. It is very clear here. There is no need to postpone. Any delay would be a loss of salvation for Zacchaeus and his whole house.
"And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, 'He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.' But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, 'Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.'" (cf. verses 6-10)
It is interesting to note that Zacchaeus is not frightened, but is immediately won over by the Lord. His desire to see Jesus was in fact an expression of a much deeper desire. The encounter with Jesus is the fulfillment of his desire. Jesus' gaze simply touched him. That is why he welcomes Jesus into his home with joy.
Later Zacchaeus deliberately approaches Jesus, because he recognizes him as the Kyrios, the divine Lord, and not as some man or rabbi. It was Jesus who approached the publican first, just as it is always God who seeks us first. And we should always ask ourselves: where did God look for me? Where did I go to meet him? Where did I run away from him?
So Zacchaeus approaches Jesus and calls him Kyrios "Divine Lord". He promises him: "I will give half of my goods to the poor". In Greek, the verb "didomi" (διδωμι) is here in the present tense, which means that this generosity will be his fundamental attitude for eternity. He will always give half of his goods to the poor. In his response, Jesus insists again on this "today": "Today salvation has been given to this house", because the publican approached Jesus, accepted his invitation, and thus fulfilled the deepest aspirations of his heart. The house represents the whole family. When one member of a family consciously approaches the Lord and seeks him, the Lord approaches the whole family. This is wonderful.
Even Zacchaeus, as a lost man, is a son of Abraham, says Jesus. Abraham is the father of faith. So he is also a son of faith because faith pushed him onto the sycamore tree and enabled him to obtain the grace of the encounter with Jesus, who was already hidden in him. It is at this point that we again find Jesus' clear statement that he goes to death for the lost: the fact that a lost man has allowed himself to be found is the great joy of God. We have already examined this mystery in another gospel. "I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need not repent" (Lk 15:7). It is to save these sinners, these lost ones, that Jesus now ascends to Jerusalem through the desert, into death, into redemption.
Jesus shows that the neediest, the poorest, and the sinners are often the most receptive and the most grateful. We regularly hear these phrases from Christians: "Oh, I'm not a bigot and I only have to go to church once a year, you mustn't exaggerate...". But love does not exaggerate. Many people who call themselves Christians are not at all receptive or grateful to God's word and other offerings, on the contrary: they do not accept them at all. The neediest are often the most receptive and grateful. Zacchaeus became another man when he saw Jesus. For Zacchaeus, today is no longer yesterday. Each day has its own opportunity. Each day is a chance to meet Christ. So my today is different from my yesterday. But what about me? Is my today really different from my yesterday? ∎