The encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus is one which appeals to the imagination and emotions as well as further illuminating that ongoing message of grace and transformation which runs through the gospels. It is fascinating to see the way that individuals seek out Christ- some trying to unobtrusively touch the hem of his garment, some finding him in a chance encounter at a well, some seeking him out at night when nobody will be there to see them. Zacchaeus climbs up a tree, and this act represents his contradictory feelings about the approach of Jesus. On the one hand, Zacchaeus just has to see Jesus more clearly without crowds in his way the and his impulsive act suggests the strength of his desire to seek God; on the other hand, his climbing of a tree might also suggest the way that he is also keeping a safe distance and remaining on the margins- and seeing as he was a tax gatherer, the margins were undoubtedly where he felt he belonged.
The crowd certainly felt the same. When Zacchaeus is called down from the tree and given a central role in the story there are grumblings and a sense of the unfairness of it all. Once again the bestowing of grace is surprising and extravagant; Jesus does not even give Zacchaeus a good telling off , he wants to come to his house and eat with him- both an honour and one of the most basic acts of human contact and good will. Zacchaeus's joyful response is endearing. He comes down "at once" and welcomes Jesus "gladly" or "with great joy." It is now clear that Zacchaeus's climb represented his receptiveness and desire to not just see but to know Jesus. Although Zacchaeus is the host in this story, he is also the person who is being invited to the Kingdom of God and welcomed home.
Zacchaeus also decides to give his money away and repay people four time over and his does this with his characteristic enthusiasm. It all smacks of a man who climbed up a tree to try to catch a glimpse of something he wants, and who can't believe his luck that he has been called down and given more than he would have ever thought possible.