This is among my favorite stories in the Scriptures. There are a lot of stories of physical healing in the Gospels, but there actually aren’t many of people coming to true repentance and life absent of physical healing. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Tax collectors held an in interesting place in society. They worked for Rome in collecting taxes from the Jewish people, which they hated and which spoke to their oppression. And they took more than Rome required to keep some for themselves, so they got rich off of working for Rome and exploiting the poor. Nobody liked them.
But something in Zacchaeus longs to get to this man Jesus. Enough so that the wee little man climbs a tree to see him, but what happens is Jesus sees him. Jesus calls him down and says he’s coming to his house. This is scandalous. Remember just a few verses before Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. Tax collectors were unclean. By going to his house Jesus is making himself unclean. But what happens is quite the opposite. Zacchaeus sees the error of his ways, pledges to give back four times what he’s taken, and it is here that Jesus says “salvation has come to this house today”.
Zachhaeus embodies the whole of what Luke is doing with Jesus in his Gospel. This whole Gospel has been about lifting up the lowly and bringing down the haughty, bringing good news to the poor and having the “rich” go away empty. Just before Jesus is about to finally enter Jerusalem he has this moment of fulfillment in his mission. A rich man repents of his acts of greed and exploitation of the poor, and at the same time and in the same man an unclean outsider is welcomed in: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Remember the name Jesus means “salvation”. And the name “Zacchaeus” (who is labeled as “unclean”) means “pure”. Salvation is literally dining with Zachaeus in his home. By naming him a “son of Abraham”, Jesus bringing the outsider in. And what was lost has been found. Zacchaeus is the tax collector in real life from the parable in chapter 18. What was lost that has been sought out and saved is his very identity as a beloved of God. His name literally means “pure”, but he is labeled “unclean” by his world. He had given up on himself, had resigned himself to worthless sinner. But Jesus doesn’t see “worthless”; he Zaccaheus. That is, he sees not unclean but “pure”. Jesus sees one worthy of his presence, and in this Zaccaheus has renewed hope for his life. What was lost that Jesus has found is his very name.
Do you believe that no matter what you’ve done or no matter what’s been done to you, Jesus sees you, calls you by name, and sees you and your home (whatever is is you call home) as worthy of his presence? No matter what we think about ourselves or what the world thinks of his, Jesus sees our worth and value as the beloved of God. That’s salvation. It’s not praying a prayer that allows you to bypass hell. Salvation is coming to see our own belovedness of God.