The tax collector took a tentative step forward. Then another. Then he grabbed hold of the low branches and swung a leg up. He looked around briefly. The crowd was coming, the noise growing louder. Up and up and up. His heart beat faster and faster and faster. Still he climbed. He was sweating now through the weight of his clothes. He barely had enough time to consider, once again, why he was pushing his way up this sycamore tree, because the crowd was right below Him now, teeming with excitement. The leaves got thicker as he edged forward… and then he saw Him. And something burst inside of Zacchaeus.
He froze, like a squirrel caught on a limb too far from the next. It was a feeling like he’d never experienced, for to his great surprise, the man wasn’t looking at the crowd. He wasn’t glad-handing the people around Him, nor was He looking forward where He was going. He was looking into the tree. Right at Zacchaeus.
Can you imagine what went through his mind at that moment? Can you fathom the insecurity of suddenly seeing not only Jesus, but every face in the crowd turn upward? Can you see his face start to turn red as the mouths of that crowd started to turn upward in jeering laughter?
But then Jesus spoke, and when Jesus speaks, everything changes:
“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5).
That’s a bit impolite, isn’t it? I mean, Jesus isn’t making a request here. He begins with a command to come down and then continues not by asking, but by declaring that He’s going to hang out at Casa del Zacchaeus that night. He must do so.
I suppose you could look at that must as an imposition both on the Son of God as well as the tax collector – that Jesus was saying that much as He would like to stay in the home of someone more reputable, He simply can’t. He has His orders, and like it or not, He’s going to that house to stay. Yes, He’s going to that house to stay. You could look at it like that, or you could see the beauty in that must.
The beautiful “must” of Luke 19 reminds us that Jesus didn’t have any questions about what He was doing on the earth. He knew what He was sent here for, and He was perfectly willing to sully His reputation by hanging out with the likes of you and me and diminutive money-grabbers like Zacchaeus. Jesus wasn’t on some rogue mission from the Father, but instead was perfectly intentional about what was happening. He Himself would go on to say: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
He must do this, and He must do it whether we like it or not. Indeed, most of us do not like it. At least not at first. We don’t like Jesus’ intrusion into our lives. We don’t like His outlandish claim of Lordship and dominion over our habits and thoughts. We don’t like His calls to complete trust and obedience. He forces His way into our houses, and it’s a bit uncomfortable. At least at first. But then, in retrospect, we find that this is an invasion of grace. Of love. Of mercy. It is an through His demands that we find true freedom and hope and joy.
We are sought. And because we are sought, we are found. And only when we are found do we look back and realize just how lost we truly were.