The beloved elements of the Zacchaeus story of Luke 19 are unforgettable to most of us. He was short. He was despised by his community (with good reason). He climbed a tree in order to get a good view of Jesus. Jesus noticed him and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus committed to becoming generous and obedient. Jesus answered critics of his friendship with Zacchaeus with the declariation that he came to seek and save the lost. We love that story.
We love Zacchaeus because we love stories of underdogs who succeed. It seems the shortness of Zacchaeus’ stature was a sign to his acquaintances that he would never amount to anything. Even people outside the basketball world took note when five foot, seven inch Spud Webb not only competed successfully in the NBA, but won the 1886 NBA All-Star Dunk Contest. We love stories about people overcoming inadequacies to experience notable success.
We love Zacchaeus because we love stories of the overlooked who finally get noticed. Zacchaeus, pushed into the corner of neglect by his townsmen, received the gracious and personal notice of Jesus. Cinderella captures our hearts because she was overlooked in favor of her step-sisters until someone insisted that she try on the slipper. The city of Jericho was happy to not think about Zacchaeus until Jesus took notice. Then they complained because Jesus noticed him and picked him to spend the day with. That Jesus noticed the un-noticed warms our souls.
We love Zacchaeus because we love stories of positive change from unlikely subjects. Saul the persecutor became Paul the missionary. In 1 Timothy 1:12 Paul acknowledges that he, the chief of sinners, was chosen by God not just for salvation but also for ministry, specifically to illustrate that salvation comes to the most unlikely of candidates. That tax-collector Zacchaeus would become I-give-half-my-goods-to-the-poor Zacchaeus is another unlikely story. But then, Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
We love Zacchaeus the underdog, the unnoticed, the unlikely, because we ourselves often feel inadequate, overlooked, and unable to change. We love Zacchaeus because he is us. More than that we love Jesus because he is the initiator, the noticer, and the savior.