Zacchaeus, the tax collector, climbs a tree so he can see Jesus when he passes by. He is especially honored to have Jesus take notice of him. Not only does Jesus notice Zacchaeus, but he goes on to invite himself to dinner at Zacchaeus' home!
This is quite scandalous on the part of Jesus as tax collectors were despised by their community. Tax collectors not only collected taxes for the hated Roman government, they often padded their own wallets by collecting more than was owed to the government. We can understand why they weren't popular!
No Jewish leader would ever willingly associate with a dishonest tax collector - let alone share a meal with one! This makes the people unhappy, and they are grumbling about it.
In the course of their time together, Zacchaeus has a remarkable change of heart. He vows to right the wrongs he has committed as a tax collector. The love and acceptance of Jesus Christ can be life-changing!
I was always taught in Sunday School that I should seek out friends who share my Christian values and beliefs. It is a lot easier to practice our faith when we are with people who see life as we do.
But this is not the example Jesus sets before us! Time and again, Jesus seeks out those who are outside of the religious establishment to spend his time with. In Luke's story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, Jesus says, "The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:10).
Growing up, my family didn't attend church - not until my best friend, Jeanie, invited me to come to Sunday School with her. My parents consented and I had a great time. It wasn't long before my younger sister was also going to Sunday School and my entire family was attending church.
My Sunday School teachers planted the seeds of God's love in my heart. They taught me about Jesus who loves the children, calms the waves in a storm, heals the sick and dies for us all that we might have life.
Thank goodness Jeanie's friendship with me wasn't dependent on my being a Christian - because without her invitation to Sunday School, I wouldn't have known about Jesus!
Having friends who share our Christian values and beliefs isn't a bad thing. We need to be with people who can sometimes validate and reflect our own ways of looking at life. But we should never turn down an opportunity to offer love and acceptance to those who don't share our beliefs.
This is what changed Zacchaeus' life! What better way to share the love of Christ?