Many of us know the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector from Jericho (Luke 19:1-10).
Many of us are also probably stricken with paralysis at the sound of the Zacchaeus song, which haunts the memory, and has probably destroyed the faith, of many a parent who has ever done time teaching children’s Sunday school or VBS. But I digress.
Not at all unlike another famous resident from Jericho, Rahab in the book of Joshua, Zacchaeus a “sinner” (v. 7) welcomes a visitor into his home with stunning, life-shifting results.
Without Jesus even needing to say a word, Zacchaeus commits to giving half his possessions to the poor and paying back fourfold anyone he has defrauded. And Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house. . . . ”
Perhaps you were taught that right there that day Zacchaeus was “saved” by accepting Jesus into his heart and receiving assurance of going to heaven when he died—that all this was mainly for future benefit.
If we think of salvation as a one-time deal, a transaction with God, the ways that the Bible speaks of salvation, save, savior, etc. (Old and New Testaments) won’t make very much sense—like this story of Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus’s salvation is his committing to a change in life—from greed and dishonesty to generosity and justice. He is repenting, in the true biblical sense of the Greek word metanoia—a change of heart that is evidenced in a change in how one lives.
And to this change Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Zacchaeus needed salvation, a change of life now—to be saved from himself.
And if we push that aside, we miss the great possibility of this story for all of us, here and now.
Salvation is something that keeps happening in our lives, needs to keep happening, as we work to conform our lives by God’s grace to reflect the life of Jesus.
Over the years I have learned to pray differently. Hardly a day now goes by when I do not ask to be saved—not the “sinner’s prayer” of conversion, but for a change in the tired patterns in my life.
That kind of prayer would have been unthinkable to me some years ago, but I have come to see what I was missing.
The membership card I keep in my wallet for future consideration is of little use. I need salvation right now.
Deliver me, O Lord. Save me . . .
from broken relationships
from fear for my family
from the fear of what might be or might not be
from not knowing
from the need to know
from the need to be right
from this horrid and subtle self-centeredness
from looking down on any other human being
from feeling misunderstood and undervalued
from being defined by my past
from judging others by their past
from manipulating my neighbor with clever words
from feeling not enough
from what I cling to
from all my failings
from all my accomplishments
Not later. Not at some point in time. But now.
Right this minute. I want change, deliverance, peace . . . salvation.
I don’t want things to continue as they are.
Save me. Now. Do it.
Zacchaeus finds salvation. And so can we. Every day.
[A beautiful song by Audrey Assad, “I Shall Not Want,” captures this idea far better than I am able to in a blog post.]