“Zacchaeus, come down quickly for today I must stay at your house.”
We continue in our series of beautiful encounters with Jesus. Last week it was a parable meant to give people hope. Today, it is an actual encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus meant to exhibit Jesus’ missions’ imperative.
Jesus call to Zacchaeus, by definition, is in an imperative sentence. These are sentences that give instruction or that express a request or command. There are actually two imperatives in this sentence and we will get back to that.
First, let’s explore some of the finer details in this encounter.
Names matter in the Jewish world of the Bible. Each name, including Jesus’ Jewish name Yeshua carries with it particular meaning. A child was to grow into its name. Zacchaeus’ Hebrew name means the just one, righteous one, or pure one. How did someone with a name like that ever end up being a Chief Tax Collector – i.e., the chief sinner in Jericho?
The point is, it didn’t matter. Jesus sees what a person can become in Him, not what he or she was before His call. As bad as a person’s history might be, that is never a showstopper as to what a person can become in God’s Kingdom. In this encounter, Zacchaeus is the perfect name to dramatically illustrate God’s plan for him – that through Jesus he would become what he was meant to be. Jesus offers us the same.
This point is further illustrated in the fact that Zacchaeus could not help himself. He could not go to the Temple and offer sacrifice to be absolved of his many sins. Zacchaeus was seen as having willingly sold his soul to the Devil. He recruited others to also sell their souls. He was not only seen as responsible for his sins, but also for those of his fellow tax collectors. Because the rabbis declared that retribution was a prerequisite to being forgiven; by definition, Zacchaeus could not be forgiven. He had no way of repaying those he didn’t even know. Zacchaeus had no hope of ever getting right with God. We are sometimes convinced that we cannot get right with God. Yet Jesus comes to change that perspective.
The more we dig into context of this encounter, the more we marvel at how everything is there for a reason. Zacchaeus was a short person who climbed up into a sycamore tree. This Middle Eastern sycamore tree is very large, dense, and grows figs people cannot eat. These figs fall to the ground where the birds feed on them and leave their droppings in exchange. It was thus considered an “unclean” tree. Zacchaeus the unclean servant of evil climbed an unclean tree. He was complete in his uncleanness before the world. Yet Jesus calls him down using an imperative sentence.
“Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house.” This imperative is in two parts. One is to Zacchaeus himself – I have come to rescue you. I am rescuing you personally. I must do this. This is to show all people, every sinner who has lost hope, who has felt unredeemable, that I have come to rescue them personally.
Jesus Divine mandate is the relentless pursuit of the lost, the abandoned, and those who have lost hope. God’s “fullness of time” grace enters Zacchaeus’ life. The King of Glory has come to rescue yet another “lost sheep,” this one found in a sycamore tree!
For us, this encounter reveals the heart of the imperative the Father gave to Jesus; His mission and God’s purpose for the world. Now the time has come for all of us to walk out of our “no hope,” death row cell and become yet another “ex-con” mercifully ushered into the Kingdom of God.