The story starts off with an image of evil. Jericho was a city associated with sin. Then Zacchaeus is identified as a chief tax collector. Tax collectors were considered traitors. Chief tax collectors? That has be worse.
Now we are given a picture of Zacchaeus wanting to see Jesus. He climbs a tree. This is a huge embarrassment for a rich man. Yet he does it in front of a crowd. He is not mildly interesting in seeing Jesus. He is determined, even desperate. It remind us of the blind beggar last week begging for mercy. Here we have a rich man humiliating himself in another way but also wanting God so much he does not care what anyone thinks. It makes us wonder about our own desire for God. Do we want him that much we don't care about our reputation?
Then Jesus comes to "the spot." He invites Zacchaeus by name. This is so typical. We approach God with fear and trepidation and when we finally overcome all that and meet God we find He was expecting us! He knows our name. He has been looking forward to us inviting Him into our home. We are overwhelmed with the intimacy of God's love.
Then we get two reactions. The reaction of Zacchaeus and the reaction of "all the people." Zacchaeus gladly welcomes Jesus. The reconciliation he longed for but almost didn't dare hope for was now a reality. Jesus was right there and wanting to come to his house. Imagine that. Jesus at the house of the chief tax collector.
The rest of the crowd imagined it all right. They didn't get it. This guy was in league with the Romans. Remember these are the followers of Jesus. They are supposed to understand at some level that they are sinners saved by grace. Yet they continue to be confused when another sinner receives the same grace. We can get like that. There can be some sinners we don't want saved. We want God to see them like we see them. That is as hopeless cases. As somehow worse sinners than us.
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.”This is very interesting. Zacchaeus is offering to do penance for his sins. This comes from the Old Testament. Jesus here has a wonderful opportunity to say that this concept is no longer needed under the new covenant. Yet He does not say that. He accepts this penance as a proper response to receiving forgiveness. Not earning forgiveness but making an attempt to make right what you have wronged on some level.
Like I said before. This statement summarises not just the point of this story but of the whole book of Luke. According to the structure of the book this is where we should expect to find the climactic moment and this is what Luke gives us. Jesus is here to save the lost. Even those who are so far lost they barely remember where they came from. Everyone thought Zacchaeus had forfeited his status as a son of Abraham. Jesus says He has not forgotten the dignity we were created with.