The Gospel lesson of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) offers us a story of contrasts in reacting to someone we consider evil. The people of Jericho despised Zacchaeus the wealthy tax collector. Apparently they shunned him. Christ on the other hand came into Zacchaeus’ life and home in order to love him. Christ’s outreach to the lost soul brought him back to the people of God.
Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Fr. Stanley Harakas comments on the Zacchaeus Gospel lesson nothing how differently Jesus treated Zacchaeus then did his compatriots:
“Look at what happens when a sinner meets Jesus. Standing next to Christ, Zacchaeus sees fully who he is. The people, no doubt, had frequently charged him with being a sinner. Surely, he knew they were aware of his injustices as the head tax collector. But he never repented, in spite of the fact that they condemned him and called him a sinner. That attitude never leads people to repentance. Now, however, in the presence of the Sinless One, Zacchaeus sees and readily acknowledges his own unworthiness, like a lady placing a worn-out house dress next to a beautiful jeweled evening gown. The shabbiness of the old dress is all the more noticeable next to the luxurious gown. When Christ meets sinners, they see themselves as they are. As a result, Zacchaeus repented of his former deeds of injustice. He admitted his sin and then acted on it: ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.’ Zacchaeus responded in gratitude for what Christ had done for him, a case of genuine stewardship. But more than that happens when a sinner meets Christ. Verse 8 quotes Zacchaeus…’and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ Here Zacchaeus did what the Old Testament defined as just. When something was stolen or taken unjustly, justice required that it be returned by one-fifth more of its value to the rightful owner (Num. 5:6-7). When that which was taken unjustly could not be itself returned, then justice demanded a fourfold payment (Exod. 22:3, 8, 4 Kingdom 12:6 Septuagint). But the important thing to notice is that Zacchaeus didn’t do this because he was told to, but because he had now received Christ into his life, and he began to act, think, and desire in a new and different way.” (Of Life and Salvation: Reflections on Living the Christian Life, pgs. 40-41)