Imagine living your life in such a manner that increasingly no one wanted to be around you. You were so self-obsessed and so focused on your own “so called” success that people and relationships did not matter. Now, imagine something happened that changed all that. Perhaps a book you read, perhaps a sermon you heard, perhaps a caring friend that spoke into your life, but you truly had a “scrooge moment” and woke up with a new perspective. You were different. You assumed everyone would be happy and excited and want to celebrate this new you. However, you were not received the way you thought you would be. Perhaps you were being misunderstood. Perhaps you were not trusted. Perhaps you were not perceived as sincere. Perhaps your actions did not mirror your words. Perhaps other’s misrepresented you, gossiped about you, spoke against you. Perhaps you felt like you were not given a chance. You acknowledged that you did something that earned the scorn of your friend, lover, family member, or colleague; however, you were really a different person now. You really had changed. The tears were no longer crocodile tears but true tears of sorrow and repentance. However, it didn’t seem to matter. Frankly, you were feeling discouraged and perhaps doubting the change…asking yourself, “why change if nothing changes and no one cares?”
Where does Jesus fit in all of that? I think Jesus comes to your house for dinner……
Imagine Jesus (and a bunch of his friends) coming over to your house, your private space and mixing it up with your family and your friends. “Uh Oh” might be what goes through your mind…really? The situation is exactly what happens when Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem (for the last time) goes through Jericho, where he singles out the most hated man in town and invites himself to dinner. I am sure that all the “worthy” hosts in town were shocked and frankly were very put off that Jesus would snub them for such a reprobate. There is a good chance that everyone in that town had been affected by Zacchaeus’ selfish actions. So what is Jesus trying to accomplish in making such a scene?
We can imagine that the meal was magnificent… probably superior to the meals Jesus was eating on the road with his disciples. I can imagine the guest list was quite eclectic. We know that everyone did not like Zach; so whomever he invited to the dinner must have been family, close friends or fellow bad guys. We have no idea how long the meal lasted, what they ate, drank or talked about around the table. However, we do know a few things.
Zach, get’s up, and says to Jesus, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (which was the common penalty for such thievery). That is quite the statement, and I can only imagine was a showstopper at dinner. However, there are several interpretations of it, and I want you to engage your imagination.
First, one could assume that Zach was so moved by the experience that he is convicted to the point to publicly declare, before Jesus and his guests that his life was to change from this moment on…frankly, he was going from rich man to poor man over dinner….must have been quite the conversion. The interpretation of a conversion at the dinner is the standard one that we are taught, and may be in fact, quite accurate.
However, what if he was defending himself instead? Some scholars mention that he is using present tense language and declaring that he was not that bad and already was helping the poor, and if he was cheating anyone, he would be paying them back the accepted penalty of four times the amount stolen. In other words, “guys, I am a changed man, give me a chance.” Several archeological perspectives believe that John the Baptist was doing his preaching and baptism near Jericho, several years earlier and perhaps Zacchaeus was one of those “tax collectors” that repented (Luke 3:12-13). We will never know.
Once Zacchaeus makes his profound statement, Jesus speaks. The only thing we know that Jesus says during this whole dinner is the following, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Therefore, when Jesus says “today salvation has come to this house” was he referring to Zach’s repentant heart or was He referring to Himself? The prior, possibly would indicate that salvation was centered on what Zacchaeus was promising to do, giving to the poor and paying the penalty for stealing. We have no record of Jesus looking at Zach and confronting him on his evil behavior, challenging him to repent and change his ways. Jesus was never bashful to confront a sinner. However, the latter option, where Jesus maybe referring to Himself as Salvation would be an interesting interpretation of this discourse. In other words, Zach gets up to say to everyone, “I am a changed man” and Jesus follows that up by saying that “Salvation (aka Jesus) is in the house and declares that Zach is indeed a changed man and one of them.” Additionally, He reminds everyone that He is there to seek and save lost people (Zach has been found) now how about the rest of you?
Therefore, perhaps, the whole reason Jesus singled out Zacchaeus, went to his house and made such a scene was to send a very loud message to everyone. The message is to say that once Jesus finds you, the rest of us ought to celebrate that and welcome you into the family. Perhaps you or I find ourselves being in the crowd of “mockers” questioning why Jesus would ever want to spend time with such a bad person when He had so many better options. Remember, Jesus is starting a movement that is designed to be inclusive not exclusive. He anticipates that many people will be “joining the family” in the future and we better get used to seeing them as one of us and not as one of them (those sinners).
The fact is that we will never fully understand the Grace of God and why He does what He does. My primary role is to trust in His dispensation of Grace. He didn’t ask my opinion. I am also asked to take personal responsibility of my own obedience and spend less time wondering about “the sinner.”
So, I guess, when Jesus invites himself to your house for dinner, He may surprise you by letting everyone know just how much He loves you and believes in you. His affirmation ignites in me a passion to listen as He listens, love as He loves, live as He lives and always keep an eye out for someone lost who needs to be found.
Stephan N. Tchividjian is the president and founder of the National Christian Foundation South Florida. Visit southflorida.ncfgiving.com to learn more.