Zacchaeus Restored

By Thabo Makgoba

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 19:1-10     

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”


Not all of those who were rich left Jesus disturbed and unhappy! Zacchaeus is an example of what is possible with God.

As a tax collector for the Roman occupiers, he earned his living by collecting as much as possible to boost his commission after paying the government its appointed sum. His attempt to see Jesus indicated an interest in him, although it is not clear whether he actually hoped Jesus would notice him. But Jesus summons him — a sinner in the eyes of Jesus’ followers — and Zacchaeus responds gladly, showing both repentance and joy as he welcomes Jesus.

In his grateful response to Jesus, the one who is referred to as the friend of tax collectors and sinners, Zacchaeus takes it a step further. He promises to turn over a substantial portion of his estate to the poor and to meet the demands of Old Testament law in repaying those he had cheated.

Desmond Tutu used to tell a charming story about the Parable of the Good Shepherd. The sheep who strayed, he said, was unlikely to have been a nice white, fluffy little lamb. It was more likely an obstreperous old ram who came out of a ditch of dirty water, smelling to high heaven.

Although Jesus the shepherd came to save all, it is sinners who are most in need of his message of salvation. In today’s reading, salvation comes to the house of Zacchaeus, to a son of Abraham who was as much entitled to hear the gospel as any other Jew. The Son of Man seeks and saves the lost of humanity.

The Most Rev. Dr. Thabo Makgoba is Archbishop of the Diocese of Capetown, South Africa; metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Southern Africa; and chancellor of the University of the Western Cape.

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