Who knows what made a short, rich crook decide to act like a child and climb a tree to catch a glimpse of a passing preacher? Whatever prompted him to do that, it changed his life completely. God only needs a tiny opportunity to take hold of our hearts: the slightest openness to change is enough. As soon as Zacchaeus started trying to see Jesus, Jesus spotted him, called him down from the tree and marched into his house. The people who thought they knew Zacchaeus disapproved, because they could only see the things he’d done wrong. Jesus saw the person inside, trapped in a cycle of behaviour that was destroying him and harming all those he dealt with, and he let the real Zacchaeus out.
You might think that a rich man parting with his ill-gotten gains would be miserable, but the Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus with joy and was happy giving away half his possessions and paying extravagant compensation to all the people he had cheated. At last he was free from his slavery to money, free to become the kind and generous person he was made to be.
Our own habits, the ruts we get stuck in and the expectations and opinions of others can keep us trapped in negative patterns of behaviour, hurtful ways of relating to each other. A real personal encounter with Jesus can cut through all of that history and open up a pathway for us to change and grow into the person we were created to be, our true self.
In the company of Jesus, people who are open to change discover what they were made for, and it is so much better than what they’re caught in at the moment that they welcome it with joy. For most people, the change may not be as dramatic as it was for Zacchaeus, but Jesus is always inviting us, in some area of our life, to move from selfish habits to more generous and joyful ways of behaving.