Luke 19:1-10 (NIV) Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.'”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “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.”
Jesus said to him, “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 what was lost.”
The road to Jerusalem passed through the city of Jericho, about ½ mile from the remains of the city destroyed by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. Jerusalem was close enough that after lunch in Jericho, Jesus and His entourage would still be able to make it there before nightfall. Luke arranges the telling of the events in Jericho to bring the healing of the blind man and the transformation of Zacchaeus into immediate conjunction to emphasize their commonalities. (Remember that the chapter breaks were not introduced into the Scriptures until almost 1200 years after the gospels were written.)
In the first event was a man who couldn’t see Jesus because he was physically blind. In the second event was a man who couldn’t see Jesus because he was physically short. In both cases, the full view of Jesus brought salvation. In the case of the blind man, his faith that Jesus could cause him to see brought him not only sight, but salvation. (The phrase in verse 18:42 often translated “Your faith has healed you,” literally says, “Your faith has saved you.”) In the case of Zacchaeus, his faith in Jesus that obeyed Jesus’ call to bring Him into his house brought salvation and a restoration of spiritual sight that enabled him to see his sin and moved him to make restitution to those he had wronged.
Make no mistake, Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus was a divine appointment, orchestrated by the Father. That was why Jesus used the phrase “I must stay at your house today.” See John 4:4 for another example of this kind of language. When Jesus uses the words “must” or “have to” with regard to his actions, it is a transparent way of identifying that He is following direct orders from God Himself.
Zacchaeus was a hated man in Jericho. Not only was he a tax collector for the Roman government, considered a sellout by most of the Jewish people, he, like many other tax collectors, had grown rich by over-collecting the taxes due and keeping the surplus. This resentment by the people was the reason for their shocked reaction when Jesus went to lunch at his house: “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner!”
But it didn’t take very long for the mere presence of Jesus to soften Zacchaeus’ heart, and to help him to see himself in a new light. And what he saw dismayed him, and moved him not only to repentance, but to making restitution to those he had wronged. This would have cost him a large portion of his fortune, but in the presence of Jesus, he realized that he stood to gain much more than mere money.
Father, the blind man knew he could not see, which made him pursue Jesus. Zacchaeus believed that he could see, which made it necessary for Jesus to pursue him. But in the end, the presence of Jesus gave sight to both, and brought salvation to both as well. Help me to always remember that Jesus didn’t just come to heal, but to save, so that, as I follow Him, those priorities inform my own ministry. Amen.