He entered Jericho and was passing through. There was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but he was not able because of the crowd, since he was a short man. So running ahead, he climbed up a sycamore tree to see Jesus, since he was about to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today it is necessary for me to stay at your house.” So he quickly came down and welcomed him joyfully. All who saw it began to complain, “He’s gone to stay with a sinful man.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord. And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much. “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus told him, “because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”Luke 19:1-10
Some of my favorite moments in life have happened around a dinner table with family and friends. When was the last time you had someone over to your home for a meal or went to someone else’s home for a meal?
Well, before getting into the details of our passage, I want to point out one important aspect of Jesus’ culture, specifically table fellowship. Table fellowship could be a means of welcome or exclusion. There were standards for having table fellowship, for showing hospitality. You wouldn’t just have anybody over for supper! You certainly wouldn’t invite those who were wicked or those who were unclean. And different Jewish groups in Jesus’ day could have varying standards.
All this to say that table fellowship, were you to share it with someone, was a sign of welcome, of friendship and acceptance. It was meant to be a communal bonding experience.
This is what makes Jesus’ way of having table fellowship controversial with some of his contemporaries. Jesus had this habit of dining with people who would have been considered unacceptable and marginal or outsiders. In Luke 7:34, Jesus points out the accusations: The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
In an essay called “Life in the Kingdom: Meal as Symbol of Jesus’ Mission,” Sarah Sahu writes this: “Jesus’ table fellowship was a symbol of the Kingdom of God that he preached. His open fellowship was symbolic of the joyous union that God intends for his creation . . . [and] was marked by an openness that was distinctive among the table practice of his contemporaries, and it is highly probable that these divergences were intended by Jesus as catalyst for transformation.”
So what does it mean to have table fellowship with Jesus? And on what basis can we have fellowship with Jesus?
We already know from our previous passages that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Our story takes place just before his triumphal entry into the city. And while on this journey, he was passing through Jericho. Here he encounters a man named Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus, to catch a glimpse of this man he’s heard so much about. But he has a problem. He’s short. You all remember the old Sunday School song? “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little was he/ he climbed up a sycamore tree to see what he could see.” And so because he can’t see above the crowd, that’s exactly what he does. He climbs a sycamore tree to get a better view of Jesus. But then what happens?
This is what we read: When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today it is necessary for me to stay at your house.” Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house! When was the last you did that to someone or someone did that to you?
And notice the phrase Jesus uses: It is necessary, he says to Zacchaeus, for me to stay at your house. Scholars point out that when Jesus says this, he means that staying with Zacchaeus is actually what his whole mission is about. In other words, what’s happening in this story is an example of the kingdom of God at work. More than that, Jesus is essentially saying that having fellowship with him is what it means to participate in the kingdom of God.
And notice as well that all Zacchaeus was looking for was a chance to see Jesus, to catch a glimpse from afar. But this wasn’t enough for Jesus. He initiates the relationship with Zacchaeus. He saw Zacchaeus and called out to him.
It comes down to this: Jesus seeks fellowship with us. What was true for Zacchaeus then is also true now for us. He seeks to enter into a relationship with us. And he takes the initiative. It starts with him and not us.
And this was what God promised through the prophets. In Ezekiel 34:11 it says: For this is what the Lord God says: See, I myself will search for my flock and look for them. And this is what’s happening in the life and ministry of Jesus. This is what’s happening in the story of Zacchaeus. All by going to his home for fellowship around the table. We should really think about that. Jesus—God in flesh and blood—is seeking fellowship with us and with each person we see and know.
Now what makes our passage interesting and important is that Zacchaeus was hated by fellow Jews because he was a Roman collaborator. He was a chief tax collector. He likely extorted fellow Jews. Zacchaeus was an outsider among his own people.
In fact, in our story those who saw Jesus enter Zacchaeus’ home complained about it: He’s gone to stay with a sinful man. Remember? He’s eating with tax collectors and sinners! That was the usual accusation. It was guilt by association, and in their eyes Jesus was tainted by having fellowship with Zacchaeus.
Here’s the thing: Jesus did not care. This was why he came. He says it himself: For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost. Jesus is saying: “I came to seek those who are broken, rejected, outcast, and unwanted.”
Now, part of the irony here is that Jesus was also breaking down their categories of who is among the lost, who can be counted among the sinners. He’s communicating clearly that God is interested in the very people many choose to reject or ignore or hate.
Put simply: Having fellowship with Jesus doesn’t depend upon who we are. Put another way: no one has to get their act together or clean up in order for Jesus to be interested in having fellowship with them. That’s not how it works.
Think about having someone over for dinner. They’ve never been to your house before. Don’t we usually feel obligated to clean as much as we can from top to bottom, or at least all the rooms and parts of the house they’re likely to see? Now of course there’s nothing wrong with preparing for visitors. There’s nothing wrong with cleaning up so guests feel welcome.
But when it comes to having fellowship with Jesus, have you ever felt you’ve had to clean up before letting him in? Does this story change how you feel about that?
Because: Having fellowship with Jesus doesn’t mean cleaning up your house or your heart first. In fact, it actually means letting him in to see the mess and do something about it. Because even those of us who are already followers of Jesus still have mess for him to clean up.
One of the puzzling features of this story is that Jesus does not explicitly call Zacchaeus to repentance. We don’t hear Jesus forgive him for his sins. Yet he does exclaim: Today salvation has come to this house.
But look what happens. Jesus comes to Zacchaeus’ home because he came to seek and save the lost. They share fellowship. And then Zacchaeus says to Jesus: Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord. And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much.
In 1st century Jewish culture, it was considered generous to give away 20% of your possessions. Zacchaeus committed to giving 50% of his wealth away. And the promise of restitution Zacchaeus makes is significantly higher than required by the highest standard of Jewish law.
This tells us that having fellowship with Jesus transforms us. Remember how I said we don’t have to clean ourselves up before Jesus will want to have fellowship with us? It’s the experience of encountering Jesus that transforms us.
And that’s exactly what happened to Zacchaeus. He encountered Jesus and was transformed by the love and the grace and the mercy of God. As a result he changed. His heart was changed and this led to a change in his life.
In Romans 2:4, Paul puts it this way: God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance. Repentance means acknowledging we’ve been going in the wrong direction and turning around.
Jesus sought out fellowship with Zacchaeus to demonstrate the kindness of God. He acted in order to bring him to repentance. Zacchaeus needed to change from the inside out.
And in Luke 3:8 Jesus speaks of the need to produce fruit consistent with repentance. So while Jesus doesn’t use the word repent, and we don’t see Zacchaeus confess his sins and repent, we do see what Jesus else calls fruit consistent with repentance.
We can’t truly experience the kindness and mercy of God in Christ without being transformed. Receiving the kindness and love of God results in a transformed heart and life.
To put it another way: it’s in our ongoing fellowship with Jesus we continue to be transformed. Jesus still seeks to transform you and me. And there is much in us that still needs to be transformed.
We could very easily describe the Christian life as having fellowship with Jesus. In 1 John 1:1-3, John is explaining that he was one of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry. He says that he was right there. He saw Jesus. He heard Jesus.
And then he says this about why he wants to proclaim the message about Jesus: what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
This, by the way, is also a reminder that for those of us who are followers of Jesus, we’re called invite others to have this same kind of fellowship with Jesus. Because through his sacrificial death and resurrection Jesus brings us life—the life he is and has, he also gives to those who enter fellowship with him.
Part of what this means is that we’re called to be like Jesus in our passage from Luke. Can each of us think of even one Zacchaeus in our life? One person who we can invite into the fellowship we share with Jesus?
When we show others the love and grace of Jesus, when we’re open to having fellowship with them, the Holy Spirit can use such connections and opportunities to move in people’s hearts. But we ourselves have to be in fellowship with Jesus first.
In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says: See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Notice again how a close relationship with Jesus is described as having a meal, sharing table fellowship.
It’s interesting how these words of Jesus have often been used as if they are being spoken to unbelievers. But they’re not. They’re being spoken to a church—a church that Jesus seeks to have fellowship with but who have over time become complacent and lukewarm.
We need to pray as people of faith that this is not us, that Jesus is knocking at our door and we’re just not listening. What is Jesus saying to us? Do we hear his voice?
Jesus told those who complained about him sharing table fellowship with Zacchaeus that he came to seek and to save the lost. There are still people who are lost—whether they realize it or not. They are living without Christ in their lives. Their eternity hangs in the balance. Do we actually care enough about this?
Here are 3 final closing thoughts:
o We need to sincerely seek to grow in our relationship with Christ. Each of us needs to have ongoing, life-giving fellowship with Jesus.
o We need to pray that we would have the heart of Jesus for those living apart from him. Because everyone we meet needs to have this life-giving fellowship with Jesus–not only for life in the present but in order to experience eternal life.
o We need to open our hearts and homes to the Zacchaeus in our lives. It is when we open our lives up in hospitality to others that the Holy Spirit can make them aware of their need for the life-giving, saving fellowship Jesus seeks to have with us and all we meet.