Luke 19:1-10, tomorrow’s Gospel lesson, is yet another story about Jesus befriending people that you and I would consider dangerous to befriend at the very least.
Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, not a bespectacled agent of the IRS, but a fearsome enforcer for the Roman occupation force. He used any means necessary to force people to pay the high taxes the Romans demanded, and he got rich by adding an equally outrageous collector’s fee for himself. If you didn’t pay up, you would definitely be sorry.
But Jesus risks tarnishing his own reputation by inviting himself to dinner with Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is so moved by the gesture that he vows to give away half of his possessions and to make reparations to everyone he’s harmed. And that, of course, is a very good ending.
But don’t miss the point that Jesus welcomed Zacchaeus, or rather welcomed himself into Zacchaeus’ world, BEFORE Zacchaeus decided to change any of his ways. It was that unexpected welcome that made
Zacchaeus realized that it was time to change, that in fact he COULD change.
Now of course I suggest that you think twice before going out of your way to put yourself in the company of someone whom you know might harm you. The immediate point of the story is to see that those of whom we think the worst are just as welcome in God’s world as those we esteem most highly. And that means that we will always be welcome, even at our worst.
Sooner or later, that sort of welcome is bound to change us for the better. But no matter how long it may take, know that you are welcome in God’s world right now, just as you are.