What is the difference between Zacchaeus and the rich ruler who turned away from Jesus? The rich man came with an agenda. Zacchaeus had no agenda except to see Jesus. And that, dear friends, is often the thing that makes all the difference.
Do you know what’s wrong with people who think they’re saved? Or who come up to you and ask you if you’re saved? They have an agenda. And their agenda is more important than seeing Jesus.
The rich ruler went to Jesus and asked him what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus dialogued with him, but when Jesus gave him the answer he did not want to hear, he turned away disappointed. And Jesus spoke those memorable words: “It is easier for a camel to go through the hole of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples are startled. After all, rich people were held in awe, just as they are today. Then who can be saved? they ask him. What is impossible with men is possible with God, Jesus replies. Both Zacchaeus and the rich ruler were wealthy, but something else, not their riches, was the deciding factor.
The encounter with Zacchaeus is precisely an example of what is possible with God! Zacchaeus does not go to Jesus with any question about eternal life; he had no agenda. He only wants to see Jesus, and he climbs a tree to get a clear view. He doesn’t call Jesus; Jesus calls him down from the tree and tells him he’s going to be a guest at his house. The initiative is completely Jesus’. And what is Zacchaeus’ reaction? He hurries down and receives Jesus joyfully. That is the key word – joyfully. He received Jesus into his home joyfully.
The transformation in his heart and spirit began right away: He gives half of his goods to the poor, and if he had cheated anyone – that’s what tax collectors did in those days – he gave it back four times!
Do you see this as an image of salvation? His immediate response to Jesus entering his home was not to say, I’m going to build a church in your honor, a big beautiful church. Jesus touched his heart and he in turn touched Jesus’ heart by his decision to give to the poor.
That, dear friends, is what salvation is all about – a meeting of hearts, our hearts with Jesus’ heart. Don’t go to Jesus in order to be saved. Go to Jesus because you’re drawn to him, you love the sound of his words and his voice in the Gospels. Don’t go for miracles, go to him with a curious mind and heart. You want to know him and the Father who sent him. Go to him as a child. He said it: Unless we become as children we cannot enter the kingdom of God. That sounds just as serious as the saying about rich men. Am I going to be 5 years old again in order to enter eternal life? No, but I should go to him like a child, curious, wide-eyed, expecting a joyful experience.
“Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” He seeks, he looks for us, he calls us. All he asks of us is an open mind and an eager curiosity like Zacchaeus. And then to respond to his presence, with joy and open hearts. And note what he said: He also is a son of Abraham. She also is a daughter of Abraham. How many of Abraham’s children today do we close the door to? Aren’t Muslims also sons and daughters of Abraham? They certainly consider Abraham their father in faith. Why do we hate them? And why do many of them hate us? What would Jesus say? I don’t have the answer; I’m just posing the question. It’s part of my curiosity coming to Jesus and hearing his voice.