Zacchaeus was a traitor. A Jew who worked for the Roman’s collecting taxes. He was also a thief. He added a fee onto the taxes to cover his own ‘expenses’. He was an apostate in the eyes of the Jewish community – excluded from the temple, from the festivals from sacrificing animals.
He was regarded as cursed of God and doomed for judgment.
And yet he wanted to see Jesus. He had almost certainly heard the rumors and the stories of who Jesus was, and now this remarkable Rabbi was coming to his town and he wanted to see him. That Zacchaeus knew who Jesus was is not surprising.
What is surprising is that Jesus knew who Zacchaeus was. And what is shocking is that Jesus speaks to him. And what is reprehensible is that Jesus asks to eat with Zacchaeus.
A meal was a significant statement in the first century. It was the place that the Jews drew the line between insiders and outsider. Gentiles, strangers and outcasts were excluded, or had to undergo special ritual cleansing in order to participate in even ordinary meals.
And yet this Rabbi from Nazarath – a supposedly holy man, wants o eat in the house of a vile traitor, thief and sinner.
But something remarkable happens to Zacchaeus. His encounter with Jesus changes him. He gives way his money – promises to pay back all he stole, fourfold. While those outside where fussing and complaining about Jesus breaking tradition and their supposed decorum, salvation was coming to Zacchaeus’ house.
Notice; no synagogue / no temple / no priest / no animal sacrifice / no ritual – only repentence and acceptence of Christ has brought Salvation to this traitor / thief and sinner.
God desires our hearts – not traditions. He desires our love, not rituals. Tradition and ritual which are not driven by our heart and love for God are unless and a waste of time. That is Isaiah’s message to the people of God. God tells Israel to stop their feasts and sacrifices. There was no point, no use offering these sacrifices if their heart were wrong.
Where is our heart this morning? If we approach the communion rail without our hearts but only in tradition God says don’t come – don’t come. But if we come with our heart – with our desire to meet and know our God then we will find his salvation, and we can say with the Psalmist – Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven and whose sin is put away.