Luke 19: 1–10
Poor Zacchaeus! He was a man trapped in the role of middle management. As chief tax
collector he would have employed local people to collect the taxes, from which he would
take his percentage, before handing the rest over to the Roman Authorities.
Being in middle management is a known cause of stress – you’re squashed from both sides
– those above you, in authority over you on one side, and those working for you who dislike
what you tell them they have to do, on the other. Zacchaeus was curious to see Jesus, but
in a clandestine fashion – he had plenty of reasons to not want to be seen
But, despite Zacchaeus’ best attempt to hide behind the big sycamore tree leaves, Jesus
saw Zacchaeus, immediately recognised his need, and asked to spent time with him.
Well, I wonder, how did his life change? Did he ever play back in his mind the dramatic
change he experienced as a result of that encounter with Jesus?
We can only speculate, of course. But that encounter offered him a welcome he was most
certainly not used to. He would have been living on the margins of society, a sinner,
according to the grumbling crowd. You see, although Zacchaeus would have enjoyed great
wealth, he would have been regarded with contempt, despised by his community. No
wonder, then, that he climbed up a tree, not only to get a better view, but also because the
leaves and branches would have hidden him from view, saving him from the sneers and
accusations of the crowd – and perhaps Jesus’ gaze. He wanted to see Jesus, but he didn’t
necessarily want Jesus to see him!
His marginalisation would almost certainly have affected his whole household – his wife and his children.
Jesus’ investment of time in Zacchaeus, would not only have restored his sense of self-
worth, but also his family’s. Jesus’ extravagant welcome seems to have inspired Zacchaeus
with the courage and determination to respond, in a practical way, to the astonishing
generosity he’d been shown by Jesus, through an extraordinarily generous action of his
own, his decision not only to give half of his ‘stuff’ to the poor but also to reimburse those
he’d cheated – four-fold.
And Jesus is prepared to trust Zacchaeus’ promise, declaring – before a penny had been
returned – ‘salvation has come’ to Zacchaeus and his household.
Salvation is an interesting word! In medieval times, healing ointments were called ‘salves’.
They were creams made with herbs, oils and fats. And although the formula has changed,
the name, or variations of it, can be still found. No prizes for guessing the name of a brand
of ointment sold today, that’s used for scratches and stings, etc. – Savlon™.
The word ‘salvage’ might describe the retrieval of the remains of a shipwreck and the
restoration, reuse or recycling of the materials that are brought to newness of life.
‘Salve’ and salvage are words that mean to heal, rescue or restore.
Sometimes we say that we salve our guilty conscience by doing a good deed, or giving a
present – we save, or rescue, or heal our conscience. We make ourselves feel better.
‘Salve’, salvage, and salvation all have the same underlying meaning.
Salvation, our reading told us, is what Jesus brought to Zacchaeus and his household.
Zacchaeus was rescued, restored and healed:-
Rescued from loneliness; Rescued from poor self-image; Healed by Jesus’ friendship;
Healed by salving his own conscience.
And, as a result of feeling better – of being made better – Zacchaeus voluntarily and
spontaneously gave away half his possessions, and paid back the money he’d taken from
others four times over. He didn’t wait to be asked. Salvation came to Zacchaeus and his
household in a moment of clarity and a spontaneous response to Jesus.
Zacchaeus’ salvation was good news to the poor and all those he had defrauded.
Jesus used Zacchaeus to be good news to the poor – to do his work; engage in his mission.
Jesus’ care for Zacchaeus was like a ‘salve’ that brought healing, rescue and restoration to
someone who had previously been cast out, lonely and mean. I suspect that Zacchaeus
was never the same again.
Salvation brought transformation. Zacchaeus realised the magnitude of what Jesus had
done for him and voluntarily changed his ways in response to Jesus, he re-oriented his way
of life towards God’s kingdom ways, because of what Jesus did for him.
It’s this acceptance and transformation that made Zacchaeus ‘a son of Abraham’. Jesus told
him that he was now a ‘son of Abraham’ – not by birth-right, as one of God’s chosen race;
not by keeping the Jewish laws as people believed was the only way; but because of the
transformation that occurred when he encountered and accepted Christ and when his
actions began to mirror God’s priorities, as demonstrated through Jesus.
And we are sons (and daughters) of Abraham, that’s to say, in a right relationship with God,
when we turn, re-orient our way of life towards God’s kingdom ways, because of what Jesus demonstrated as a pattern for us to copy. Salvation comes to us when our encounter with Christ causes us to transform our ways, so that our actions start to mirror God’s kingdom-building ways.
As this week unfolds, accept Jesus’ invitation to meet with you, and see how that encounter becomes a ‘salve’ – rescues you, transforms you to newness of life, and heals you. And hear Jesus ask you, ‘how will you be good news to the poor?’
Revd Janine Atkinson