St Luke may have practised medicine as a disciple of Christ, but he might easily have made a living as a novelist, if they had existed at the time. This is because Luke knew how to tell the story of Jesus Christ, and he knew how to drive the narrative in his gospel. Just recall last week’s Sunday gospel, where we heard the parable of the prideful pharisee and the humble tax collector. Luke has Jesus telling this parable just before he heads off to Jericho, where we pick up the story today as he enters the city and meets Zacchaeus.

In that meeting—with short Zacchaeus up the tree and Jesus catching his eye from the ground—we have a real-time playing-out of what Jesus said in the parable. There is a tax collector, about to be humbly welcomed by the travelling Rabbi; there is a crowd who, like the pharisee, think themselves more worthy of the Rabbi’s attention; and there is the Rabbi himself, the Son of God, noticing the one most in need of mercy and repentance.

The manner in which Jesus turns towards Zacchaeus is telling: Jesus looks up to find Zacchaeus; he deliberately turns aside so that Zacchaeus can come into his view. We have here the way in which Jesus notices us as well: he looks for us, seeks us out, attends to our need even if we are unconscious of the need we have. And then, we learn that Jesus not only notices us, but he wants to spend his time with us, of all people.

While we might treasure the image of Jesus regularly spending his time with the less salubrious of society, I sometimes wonder if he quietly grinned to himself, knowing what kind of effect it was having. The more upright Jericho folk certainly were miffed by Jesus going off with Zacchaeus and his kind of friends. And we might want to say, fair enough. As the chief tax collector of the town, he’d sold out to the occupying Roman Empire, who imposed the taxes, and he’d gotten wealthy off their hard-earned wages. Perhaps the only company he could find in town was with the other rejects, who lived among the townsfolk.

But Jesus would always spot these people living shadowy lives, even if they might have had prominent positions, like Zacchaeus. Here is the deep radicalness of the Son of God, and the uncomfortability that this might generate in us. I would be dishonest if I were to claim I consistently live in this way that Jesus modelled, of attentiveness to and friendship with the sinner. It is certainly the narrow gate to walk through, because it calls for me to set aside what might be socially acceptable. But even more so, clearly Jesus enjoyed this way of living; it brought him delight to make friends with those in need of mercy and forgiveness. It was with them that he most wanted to be. ‘Hurry, Zacchaeus, I want to stay with you today.’

And remember, Jesus will always be found where healing and forgiveness are most needed.

Image: Niels Larsen Stevns, Zakæ (Christ and Zacchaeus), oil on canvas, 1913, Randers Museum of Art, Randers, Denmark.