St Cyril of Alexandria reminds us that Zacchaeus was the leader of the tax collectors, a great sinner even among sinners, and would have been numbered along with the prostitutes by the Pharisees; both would have been examples of total depravity. Yet Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.”; so there is here a mystery. Zacchaeus helps us understand it, for he wished to know the Lord, and did not mind making himself a figure of ridicule in the process; he came to repentance, made reparation and was saved; we should do the same. St Cyril says that like Zacchaeus, we must climb above the crowd and the sins of the world
St Augustine tells us that the crowds get in the way of people seeing Jesus, they mock the lowly and the poor. But Zacchaeus, a great sinner, desired so much to see Jesus that he found a way to do so, despite the crowd. The wisdom of this world laughs at those who worship a ‘crucified God’; but the wisdom of this world is folly to God. If we would see Him, we too must climb the tree on which He died for us. Zacchaeus was not ashamed to climb the tree and to be mocked; we should be like that.
Grace was poured out, St Augustine points out. It was not just that his name was known to Lord, but the Lord also said he would come unto his house. Under its impulse Zacchaeus repents and pays back what he had stolen. That is what it means to welcome Christ. He was already there in the heart of the sinner, and once the sinner repented he was saved.
Ephrem the Syrian sees here a parallel with that first fig tree, a symbol of the fall. Here we have the symbol of the resurrection. We rise through Christ and His sacrifice on the tree for us.
St Augustine reminds us that Christ came to seek what was lost. All were lost, all have sinned and fallen short. Christ came without sin to save us sinners.
The Fathers are agreed that Zacchaeus is the type of the repentant sinner, and they all note not only the fruits of his repentance, but his own search for Christ, a search which led him to make himself a figure of ridicule. We, too, must search for Christ, and we must rise above our sins, and the crowd in our way, and we must be willing to be laughed at; for the wisdom of this world is mere foolishness.
Zacchaeus had fallen as far as it was possible. He had worshipped mammon, enriched himself at the expense of the poor and cooperated with the pagan Romans; he was a traitor to his faith and his race. Yet he desired to see Jesus, and that desire led him to salvation. The lesson is plain enough for us all.