And he entered and was passing through Jericho.
And behold, a man called by name Zacchaeus; and he was a chief publican, and he was rich.And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the crowd, because he was little of stature.
And he ran on before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house.
And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, He is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner.
And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold.
And Jesus said unto him, To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.
I hope you read the passage above, because that is all that I will be talking about in this post. This was the scripture that was spoken about this last Sunday at my church, Jacob's Well, and has been on my mind for the last two days. I realize I have not been posting as much lately, but life is certainly becoming more busy and I am realizing much that I say here has little content or reference to what is truly going on inside my heart and head at times. Relating the facts of my life has always been simple and easy, but to truly dig into what I am feeling and how I am growing is not an easy task.
You know, we read this story, or hear it and the first thing that pops into my head at least, is the Sunday School song about Zacchaeus and how he was a "wee little man". I had never really looked at this story to see what it means today, in light of our culture and current events. This is what I have been kicking around...
Jesus is passing through. This we know. As His disciples, His church, we know that we are called in this world to be an example and witness to others of Him. The things that he taught and more importantly, lived out, are still the message of hope to this world that He wants us to communicate by our words and actions. I think we could all agree on that.
There is this guy Zacchaeus. Now he could be anyone, but one thing we do know. He is a high ranking tax collector. In that day and age, he was the scum of the earth. He was aligned with the Romans and took part in oppressing his own people financially and profited from it. In other words, he was the type of person the churches or religious groups of the day hated. We have many of those today, do we not? "Worldly" people with lifestyles and habits that are not approved by the organized groups who say they hold the ticket and keys to God. So Zacchaeus was one bad guy. We got it.
Now he had heard that Jesus was coming by and wanted to see him, maybe talk to Him? For some reason he had an interest in this guy that he had heard everyone talking about. He shows up and because of the crowd, cannot even see Him. So he climbs up this tree so he can see Jesus. Jesus spots him and says, "Hurry up and get down here, I am coming to your house today." So he comes on down and meets up with Jesus and he is seriously happy! Not only did he see Him, but Jesus looked up and said I am coming on over to your house. He gets to be the host. Suddenly he is not longer the scum of the earth, at least in Jesus's eyes. That is because he never was.
The crowd then gets all pissed off because, what the hell? Jesus is going over to some sinners house? I am sure they were disgusted by Zacchaeus and his life and his actions and they could not understand why in the world Jesus would want to hang out with someone like him. It made no sense to them at all. Why wouldn't Jesus want to come over to the "good peoples" house and sit around with the accepted Godly leaders of the day? Who is this Zacchaeus guy?
So during the course of the afternoon, Zacchaeus stands up and tells Jesus that he is going to give away half of all his stuff to those who have need and also pay back FOUR times the amount that he has take from others in any kind of dishonest manner. His life actions were showing what he believed. This wasn't something Jesus asked him to do, in fact it was more than the law of the day demanded. His personal convictions led him to take actions that he saw fit in order to show that his encounter with Jesus Christ that day had personally changed him. This wasn't something the crowd of leaders pushed on him either. His actions were his choice alone.
Jesus says that this day salvation has come to your house and calls him a child of Abraham. He puts him on equal footing and standing as all the other "good people". The story is then closed up with statement that Jesus came to seek and to save, that which was lost.
So what does all that mean to me?
I think it makes a great picture of what the church has become today. Zacchaeus is the single gay guy or gay couple, the gay family with children, the person who drinks alcohol, maybe does recreational drugs. They are the single unwed mothers, the homeless guys, the people from some other ethnicity different than our own, the divorced people, the dating couple who live together, the illegal immigrants, all the people who do not look or act like whatever your version of Church is. He is the one that the crowd, the Church, shuts out. The ones that cannot get to Jesus, not only because of their standing in the community and stature, but simply put...because the crowd will not let them. They are cast off, the condemned, the maligned the hated and cursed in the eyes of the professional Christians of the day.
Now these Zacchaeus', of which I am one, have always been pushed away, blocked out, told to stay away, have heard that Jesus is coming by. In our lives, either through the words and actions of another person who loves us, our families and upbringing or simply our own journey of faith, we hear about the Gospel, We know Jesus is coming. Something is stirring in our lives spiritually and we go to seek Him out. Because of the words and actions of the "christians" we know we will never get a chance to be near Him...so we climb a tree.
That tree, whatever it may be in our own lives, puts us in direct line of sight with Jesus. We have to get above the heads of this crowd, these people who say salvation is not for us. And what does Jesus do? He looks up. He truly sees us and says, "I am coming to your house today." He give us a chance. You see, Jesus already knows where He is going. He is not led by handlers. He is not controlled by denominations or pastors and preachers. No one holds on to Him as a possession to be doled out to those they count worthy. He is a person unto himself and no man will stand in His way. He is coming to our house, even when they don't like it at all. He came to seek and to save that which was lost.
We see this all around us today. So many groups of people that the church has always "traditionally" shunned and condemned. We have been told to change our ways before we meet Jesus. You cannot be like that here! We are told to get out of their churches or start our own. We have always been the outsiders looking in. But get this! Zacchaeus was a tax collector when Jesus met him and he was a tax collector when Jesus had gone.
His encounter with Jesus changed him internally and he began living out differently to those around him. He did not become taller. He did not quit his job. He was still Zacchaeus. I am sure those crowds of people still hated his guts, but he had met Jesus.
Have you climbed a tree lately?