Luke 19:1-7 (the message)
Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho. There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way — he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.
When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.” Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”
Remember that song from childhood about Zacchaues? Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he…He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see…Last night the girls’ Bible story was about Zacchaeus. I find it interesting how sometimes reading their Bible stories will cause me to think more about the story for myself! When I was a child, learning that little song, I couldn’t grasp what today as an adult I can. Well, I say that but then I have a daughter who clearly was able to grasp the idea of God choosing a misfit in the story of Mary Magdalene at camp last week! So, maybe it was just me! Maybe we hear these Bible stories and because they are presented to us in such a friendly and sometimes watered down way as children we miss the heart of the story.
As I read back over this story this morning, I was again struck by this man’s desperation to just see Jesus. He ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a tree just to see Him. A grown man climbing a tree to get a glimpse of another man! The scripture above says he “wanted desperately to see Jesus.” You know what I think? Zacchaeus had a story.
We know three things about Zacchaues: he was rich, he was short and the people thought he was a crook. The short part explains why he had to climb a tree to see Jesus as the scripture says he couldn’t see over the crowd. He was rich, the head tax man, and yet he so desperately needed Jesus that he put aside his pride and climbed. I wonder this morning why was Zacchaeus do desperate? What kind of “issues” did he have? Maybe he determined to grow rich, even in unscrupulous ways, to make up for the insecurity he felt as a short man. Maybe he was quite lonely, even though he was rich, because the people hated him. Whatever his story, I believe he had one. And Zacchaeus’ story was one that drove him to desperately reach out to the Savior as He walked by.
This past weekend, as we visited my in-laws, I had a long and profound discussion with my father-in-law about this kind of thing. We talked about how everyone has a story. We looked at old, black and white pictures and talked a bit about the stories that went along with them. We talked about how so often we see people and their behavior and we so quickly want to label and judge them…never having known or even bothered to ask about their story. Does it mean that our life story excuses us from bad behavior or choices? Neither of us would say that. I think we just realized that people don’t wake up one day and decide to self destruct. Everyone wants to be loved and live a successful life.
The other part of the Zacchaeus story that grips me is the reaction of the people to Jesus when He recognized the little man in the tree and invited Himself over to his house. They were so ticked! I just bet anything they were first of all jealous and then swallowed up in a prideful anger. They saw themselves as the ones worthy of being chosen by Jesus. After all, they were good. I imagine their disgust that instead of Jesus calling Zacchaues out of the tree to rebuke him, Jesus planned to go have supper with him! See, I wonder if as Jesus was walking among the crowd He caught a glimpse of Zacchaues running ahead. Perhaps this really touched the heart of God. I would say it did. I would say that regardless of what sin Zacchaues was living in and regardless of what others thought of him, God knew his story. And most importantly, Jesus was drawn to his desperation for wholeness. Who else was climbing a tree that day? Were those so upset over the grace and love of Jesus for an undeserving sinner? No, they hustled and bustled along side Jesus, probably competing for his attention or to have a need met. Zacchaeus could hardly believe it when Jesus called him down from the tree, which leads me to think he certainly wasn’t expecting anything from Jesus. Zaccheaus knew his own story, he knew what kind of life he was living. He certainly didn’t think he had earned or deserved to be called out by Jesus. And yet he was.
Regardless of how we start out in life, regardless of the way we are living today…I believe Jesus is more concerned with the level of desperation in our hearts to see Him than how ‘good’ we think we are. The amazing thing about being desperate to see Jesus is that you will see Him. And once you see Him, your life will change. In the end, Zacchaues was giving away his wealth and paying back those he had cheated — 4 times what he had stolen! And here is what Jesus said to the crowd: “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaues, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.” (verse 9-10)
Maybe you grew up with “fire and brimstone” preached to you every week. Maybe your idea of God is that He is always angry at you and waiting to punish you and send you to Hell. I don’t write to minimize the effects of sin or the realities of Heaven and Hell. I write to say that no matter what your story is, no matter what you have done wrong, Jesus will attend to your desperate heart. He will pass by crowds of self-righteous people to find you if you’ll climb the tree. If you want Him, know that you need to see what this Jesus is really all about, then run ahead. You don’t have to wait for the crowd’s approval.
For me, I have been praying more lately about my penchant for holding mental court. See, our brains our constantly taking in information and drawing conclusions. If our brain tells us it feels hot outside, our conclusion is to wear summer clothing. We can’t help what happens as we observe behavior in others in that we “bank” what we see and hear. But the clincher is when we hold onto information and what we observe in others and mentally pronounce a verdict on their worthiness as a person. I really believe there is freedom to be had in letting go of forming opinions about others and labeling them…judging them. I know God wants us to use wisdom in our lives and relationships and we don’t ignore what is and what isn’t. But see those people in the crowd that day held Zacchaeus in contempt. And then they held Jesus in contempt because He had the nerve to show mercy and kindness.
I think we might all live with a much lighter load if we stop holding mental court and finding one another in contempt. It’s not my job. I am not the spiritual judge nor jury. I don’t know the back story and the trauma of the life that doesn’t meet my approval. And often I form opinions and hold others in contempt as a diversion from my own insecurities and pride. Deep down inside I want to feel superior to mask my own self-doubt. I don’t have to know or understand it all. But I can know, from this story, that Jesus is looking for a hungry heart.
He is always alert to the man or woman running ahead to climb the tree.