Bernard Strozzi 1581-1644 a student of Caravaggio painted this scene of the calling of Zacchaeus. Let’s look at some of the features and see what the artist is trying to tell u. The most striking feature in the foreground is the boy with his dog. This is not recorded in the Bible and I have never heard of it before but it is the most beautiful creation in the picture. The boy’s skin is clean and pure. His attention is wholly focussed on Jesus. The dog is even more intriguing It is staring at Jesus perhaps with curiosity but with that look of trust and adoration that only a dog can give to a human.
Also in the foreground Jesus is confronted by two men and they appear to be in dispute with Jesus. The man on the left is extraordinarily tall and is striking a pose. His hand indicate that he is arguing with Jesus. The one in the middle seems to be reasoning with him but in a Uriah Heep kind of way. They are wearing shawls of some very expensive materials as one has fringing these are probably prayer shawls.
So these are wealthy religious citizens protesting at the kind of company that Jesus is keeping. Meanwhile that company is perched up the tree centre-stage – Zacchaeus the man who gives his name to the pericope. Zacchaeus is slapping his breast as if he is saying ‘Who me? But I am a tax-collector. I have made my wealth at others expense, I work for Herod and the Roman. I’m a traitor and a despised outcast.’ Beneath him stands Jesus. He looks up at Zacchaeus but he also faces the men of Jericho. He is gesturing- one hand on his chest and the other pointing behind him.
What might those gestures mean? The most obvious answer is that he is saying ‘come down. We’ll go to your house.’ But the hand on the breast reminds us of the ‘I am’ sayings. Is he telling the men ‘I am the Good Shepherd seeking the lost’? Again he might be saying ‘look at this boy who loves his dog, he is pure in heart, he sees me for who I am.’
The Jesus of the Gospel says to the man up the tree ‘Zacchaeus’ (he calls him by name) ‘come down, for I must go to your house’. Must is emphatic. This is something he has to do. It is like his words – the Son of Man must suffer many things. Why must the Son of God go to this despised outcast? For much the same reason that he must suffer many things – in order that salvation may come to the house of sinners.
So what is the message of this Gospel for you, for me? It is not primarily telling us that we should not despise others, nor indeed is it even primary in calling us to be like Jesus and so love and care for sinners. It is above all how redeeming love brings about repentance and then salvation. We all need to know that we are loved despite all the wrongs, all the faults all the things for which we despise ourselves. When Jesus tells us he must go to our house we in turn must accept. Let him love us let him take our repentance. Then we shall be free to love all as he loves. Salvation will come to our house.