Today’s story is one of a pair: What happened on the way in to Jericho, and what happened on the way out.
On the way in Jesus healed a blind beggar. The crowd try to stop him from calling out to Jesus, but Jesus stopped them and healed him. On receiving his sight the beggar followed Jesus, praising God. And when all the people saw it, they praised God too.
On the way out of Jericho, there is Zacchaeus. Famous for being the short guy who climbs a tree to see Jesus. Though Zacchaeus’ problem was not his size: it was that he was a chief tax collector. A collaborator with the Romans; part of the oppression. One who could extort his own people as part of his business collecting taxes. Zacchaeus climbs a tree not because he is short, but because he is not safe in the crowd. A respected short man they would let through. A collaborator with the enemy might well incur a few punches, and worse, in the scuffle of a crowd. So he runs ahead and climbs a tree to see, and to hide from the crowd.
When Jesus reaches the spot he invites himself to stay with Zacchaeus. Custom dictated that the village would welcome Jesus and determine the best place for him to stay. Jesus had chosen not to stay. He was passing through. And then he changes his plan: chooses to stay and accept hospitality – not from the most honourable family in town, but from the hated collaborator. No wonder the people began to mutter.
Jesus puts his own reputation on the line to reach out to the oppressor. The crowd was pleased enough when Jesus healed the beggar. But this goes too far for them. And perhaps also for us? Grace for the oppressed is well and good. But grace for the oppressor? We too might say: slow down Jesus!
Jesus’ decision to stay with Zacchaeus has a transforming effect: Zacchaeus gives his wealth to the poor and promises to repay anyone he has cheated. Grace is not cheap. It costs Jesus. It also costs Zacchaeus. And it challenges and costs the community to seek reconciliation where there has been injustice. God’s grace is the costly gift of God’s own self-giving that works to challenge and transform a broken community, an injustice, an oppressor.