I think I’m a lot like Zacchaeus. But not for the reasons you’d probably expect. What I really identify with is the way in which he quietly pursued Jesus. He wanted to be near him, to see him, to spend time with him. But he held back. Why? It could have been many reasons. Shyness. Shame. Fear. Whatever it was, I relate. I’m not very good at reaching out to others first. I think, they don’t really want a relationship with me. They’re too busy or important and I’m just little old me. Call it pride or insecurity (probably both), but that’s often my MO with new people. A woman at my church calls it “being a lump.”
What I love about this passage is Jesus’ response to Zacchaeus. Jesus doesn’t leave Zacchaeus to wallow in his shame or stay on the outside. Instead, he walks right up to his hiding place and says matter of factly, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” I love that! With those words Jesus tells Zacchaeus, “I want community with you. I see you. Whatever excuses you have that I wouldn’t want to spend time with you are not valid. I do and that’s that.”
That’s what I love about Jesus’ interactions with people in the gospel. They’re all so different. Sometimes he’s angry, sometimes he’s clever, sometimes he’s kind, sometimes he’s aloof, yet sometimes he’s straight-forward. It’s not that he’s inconsistent, it’s that he actually knows the heart of everyone he looks at and knows how to interact with them in the way they need. Jesus knew Zacchaeus deeply desired to run to him, but shame was keeping him away. So Jesus responded accordingly- with respect and a no nonsense response that showed Zacchaeus that his insecurities didn’t matter to Jesus and that they were in no way a barrier to their relationship. All Jesus desired was a willing heart and Zacchaeus had that. Therefore, Jesus moved towards him and pulled him from the lonely outer ring to the inner circle.
I’m so grateful Jesus moves towards me when I hold back because I feel unworthy. I am unworthy, but because of what Jesus did, he can pull me from the lonely outer ring to the inner circle with him and God. I wonder if Jesus thought about that when he reached out to Zacchaeus, I wonder if he thought, “Yes, Zacchaeus, you don’t deserve community with me, but my Father and I desire it, so I’m making it possible.” I wonder if that thought made him happy. Happy that he was the solution to the problem and that in his life he got to communicate and show the world the restoration he would bring about on the cross.
Last night with my church, we studied how the gospel should be the source of our compassion for the poor. When we realize that we were poor spiritually and could not pull ourselves up into spiritual riches without Jesus, that gratitude translates to compassion for those who are poor in other ways because we relate. We don’t see ourselves as better or indifferent, but in the same place as they are. We are all up in that tree, unable or too ashamed to enter the action.
In his sermon on justice, Tim Keller described “righteousness” not as doing good deeds, but rather thinking not just of your own needs, but the needs of everyone in the group. That challenged me a lot. I can really be a lump sometimes and think only of my needs and my problems. After reading this story of Zacchaeus with this in mind, I think righteousness is simply lifting your eyes to trees, looking for the outsiders and welcoming them to come down because you remember what it was like up there before Jesus called you down.