Today’s Gospel from Luke is one that I love: Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus. We all remember the story:
Here is Zacchaeus – a short man who can’t even see above the crowds. He is unpopular, not what we think of as a good person. This is not someone who is on the guest list of most people’s dinner parties. Most people want nothing to do with him. Those who don’t think him vile simply view him as unimportant. So Zacchaeus is perched up in a tree trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus.
Jesus sees Zacchaeus up there and calls out, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” What Jesus really says is: My dear, dear Zacchaeus, it doesn’t matter to me that you are a tax collector and that you are unpopular. I still want to be with you. I want to be your friend. Indeed, I must be your friend.
And what impact do Jesus’ words have on Zacchaeus? Zacchaeus practically bounds out of the tree with joy and promises to give half of his possessions to the poor and make recompense to all he has cheated.
Jesus didn’t wait for Zacchaeus to do some good things before approaching him. Rather he shows love to Zacchaeus first, and the recognition of that love leads to Zacchaeus’ response.
God loves us first. That is a truth we must grasp. God’s love doesn’t depend on what we do or don’t do. God’s love is first and always.
It is grasping that fundamental truth that changes everything.