He had heard about Jesus, and when he was coming through Jericho, Zacchaeus was curious and wanted to know what he looked like. Like many of us, he planned to see what was going on without being noticed.
Let me read to you the familiar story. "Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 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.' So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him." He could have refused and told Jesus he wanted nothing to do with him. Or he could have said "I am not a religious man, and don't believe in God." Or "I am not good enough to have you come to my house." But when Jesus called out his name, he knew Jesus knew all about him, and this was for real. It was time to get his life in order.
In the account of the call of Levi, also called Matthew, who became one of the twelve apostles, we are told he gave a great banquet for all his tax collector friends and others who were viewed as sinners to meet Jesus (Matthew 9:9-12, Luke 5:29-31). But Zacchaeus wanted to talk to Jesus privately. He did not invite others to a banquet, but he had Jesus come to eat at his home alone. As a result of that one on one conversation he said "Half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much."
You can imagine the astonishment of a widow in the city when Zacchaeus came to her home with a bag of money and said "I want to give you back four times the amount I overcharged you that day." Then he found other people in the city and paid them four times what he had overcharged. Next he provided for needs of the poorest people in the city. The city of Jericho must have been shaken to the core, and very impressed. But it wasn't just the citizens who were happy when Zacchaeus came round to them to put things right. For Zacchaeus there was a huge load off his conscience. He was a changed man.
Jesus said "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham." Till that evening Zacchaeus had felt rejected from God's people, but now he is assured that God loves him and accepts him. And Jesus explained "The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
What does this story mean for you and me? We can live our lives hiding and pretending. Some like to come and see what is going on in church without ever letting Jesus get personal with them. But when we suddenly realize that he is calling us personally by name, we can either tell him we want nothing to do with him, or we can welcome him into our life.
As that happens, we may have things on our conscience that have never
been resolved. Jesus assures us that we are loved and accepted and forgiven.
But he will also help us to put things right with those we have wronged.
There may be family quarrels that have festered for many years. Like Zacchaeus,
we can go to this person and that person, and say "look, let me pay four
times as much as you expect, and let's get this quarrel settled." Zacchaeus
did that with great joy, and his whole life was changed for ever.