We are blessed in that the Gospels give us several scenes or events that reveal to us just how that conversion and change take place. One event in particular is what happened to the wealthy tax collector who met Jesus as he was passing through the town of Jericho (Lk 19:1-10). This encounter took place shortly before Jesus entered Jerusalem and faced his passion and death.
By this time, Jesus’ reputation for his miracles had spread widely. Even without modern communications, news of what Jesus had done in his ministry spread like wildfire. As Jesus approached the entrance to Jericho, he was spotted walking with some of his disciples, and word spread quickly: The miracle worker is coming to town.
Enter Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector who would have any number of his contacts telling him of Jesus' approach. This is when the conversion process starts for Zacchaeus. He is curious to see Jesus. It is at a moment like this that his heart opens, and the grace of God slips in. Zacchaeus’ heart beats faster. He had to see this man about whom he had heard so much.
The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus tried to get a good look at Jesus as he approached, but he was short, and the gathering crowd blocked his view. And so he climbed a sycamore tree and perched up there like a bird in a tree. Now he could see Jesus coming. Then came a major moment of grace: the call. Jesus looked up, spotted Zacchaeus, smiled and shouted, “Zacchaeus, come down. Today I must stay in your house with you.” Jesus’ voice and his manner filled the heart of Zacchaeus. It was the touch of God, though Zacchaeus could not fully realize just then. But we can be sure that in the days following that call, Zacchaeus would relish and imagine those words of Jesus again and again.
Of all the people in the town Jesus might have chosen, the religious leaders think a dinner in the home of a tax collector would be the last thing Jesus would do. After all, Zacchaeus worked for the Romans and collected taxes. Cheating and overcharging were the standards. Why is Jesus eating with a sinner?
But it is at that very moment that the heart of Zacchaeus responded to Jesus’ invitations. He hurried down from the tree and ran to Jesus. Luke uses these beautiful words, “Zacchaeus received Jesus with joy.”