“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)
"The main emotion of the adult American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture, is disappointment.” (John Cheever)
That seems an overly cynical analysis of our culture. However, take time to let it sink in and you begin to agree. My only argument with Cheever is that emotion did not begin with average Americans. We have struggled with it since we were evicted from Eden. No matter what we accumulate or accomplish the dull ache remains. Case in point-The encounter between Jesus and Zaccheaus. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to keep an appointment of eternal consequences. Even so, his schedule didn’t prevent him from responding to needs that were apparent to him. In fact, Jesus passed through Jericho on purpose.
“A man was there named Zacchaeus…” Jesus didn't need divinity to recognize Zaccheaus. He was the “chief tax collector” in Jericho. That is a very powerful and notorious position. Everyone in Jericho knew Zaccheaus. No one in Jericho liked him. He, “…was wealthy.” No one likes a tax collector in the first place because they are traders to their people. But if you are tax collector AND loaded, you are doubly despised. Everybody in town knew Zaccheaus. Any one could have pointed him out.
The short, little, sell out in the nice, designer robes. However, on this day, Zaccheaus , “… wanted to see who Jesus was…” He was so anxious that he “he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree.” In first-century Jericho, a man would never run in public. He would have to hike up his robes, expose his legs, draw attention to himself. Such behavior was considered unseemly and beneath his station. But Zaccheaus didn’t “walk fast”, he ran as fast as he could.
And it get’s even more juicy!
He climbed a tree!
This notorious man in a provincial community climbs a tree during the big parade. Try to picture your mayor hanging from a tree limb on the main route of the Independence Day parade and you begin to understand.
We have learned to approach Christ and faith with a certain reserve and dignity. Zaccheaus, was too desperate for God too be grounded by the opinions of others. This is a sure sign that you are ready to see Jesus. Jesus spots him and says, “Come down immediately, I must stay at your house today.” Zac thought he was looking for Jesus and it turns out Jesus was looking for him! “For the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost.”
"To speak of a man seeking for God makes as much sense of speaking of a mouse seeking for a cat." (C.S. Lewis)
That is how our salvation always begins. He looks for us before we ever look for him. When you find yourself “interrupted” by an urge in your heart and all the usual business and success, calendars and cronies, aren’t able to distract you anymore and, of all things, you start thinking about religion, faith, and Jesus!
THAT IS YOUR GREATEST OPPORTUNITY KNOCKING ON YOUR HEART’S DOOR.
Don’t walk, RUN to him! Don’t let what others think slow you down. Don’t be satisfied with being a dignified religious parade watcher. Don’t be put off by inconveniences. Hitch up your robe, climb a tree if you have to, but respond to Jesus. Zaccheaus is so grateful for Jesus’ visit he throws a party and declares, “Look Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone out of anything I will pay back four times the amount.”
“Here and now!”
Life-changing business with God is always transacted “here and now”. Nothing changes until our “some days” become “today”. Then Jesus says, “Today, salvation has come to this house.”
Only clearance-aisle Christianity declares that salvation has come apart from hunger for real change. Everyone wants forgiveness; few of us want transformation. In God’s economy they are like the old Sinatra song “love and marriage”…you can’t have one without the other.
However, please notice that the change is less about what we will stop doing and more about what we will begin doing. “I will give to the poor. I will stop consuming all your goodness on my own needs. I will begin to be a steward of your blessing by blessing others and making restitution where I can.” What an amazing transformation.
And to think, “Jesus…was passing through”. He had no stops planned for Jericho. In fact, he was headed for Jerusalem to keep an appointment that had been planned from all eternity and would impact all eternity. Zaccheaus was not on Jesus’ “To-Do” list that day.
Or was he? “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost”.
Henri Nouwen wrote of a conversation- “A few years ago I met an old professor at the University of Notre Dame, looking back on his long life of teaching, he said with a funny wrinkle in his eyes: “I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.”
Scriptures tell us God is at work in every thing to conform us to the character of Jesus. If that is the case, then our prayer this day may need to be, “Dear Father, help me to spot and take advantage of every opportunity you place in front of me to share your goodness with another person. Save me from simply ‘passing through’, help me to be willing to stop my parade when I see your grace at work.”
I encourage you to pray that as you welcome your students, speak with your clients, eat dinner with your family. Those moments can be packed with eternal potential.
“Life” John Lennon wrote, “Is what happens to you when you are making other plans.”
Just a thought.