Attracting the Unattractive
The text this week is Luke 19: 1-10. This is the story of Jesus and the tax collector Zacchaeus. The scene opens with Jesus passing through Jericho and Zacchaeus chasing after Jesus to the point of climbing a sycamore tree because he was too short to see Jesus otherwise. It is interesting to note that one as reviled as a tax collector would go to such lengths to see and interact with Jesus. Something was motivating this man to seek out Jesus and see Him.
As is always the case, Jesus meets us where we are. Jesus looks up and recognizes Zacchaeus and invites Himself to Zacchaeus’s house. It is notable that Jesus finds Zacchaeus and it is flat out stunning that He is willing to cross this man’s doorway. It points to the radically inclusive nature of Jesus and His ministry that He would interact this way with such an odious character. It is not simply that Zacchaeus is a tax collector (few like these people in any age), but Zacchaeus is a tax collector on behalf of an occupying Roman imperial state. Yet, here is Jesus reaching out to this man in response to Zacchaeus’s search for Jesus. Jesus recognizes a seeker, even up in a tree.
Believing and Obeying
This passage is a clear example of the main theme of what I write that Zacchaeus believes (therefore he sought out Jesus in the first place) and he then obeys. His obedient response to his faith in Jesus is to give away half his possessions and to pay back four-fold anyone he has defrauded.
What is not especially noteworthy is the fact that people are grumbling that Jesus would so interact with such a sinner. Yet, Jesus has already dealt with this in Luke 5: 31, when He points out that the well do not need a physician. We should all be ashamed if our response to an outreach to those who are lost is to grumble. Who of us is so pure that we don’t qualify as “lost” in some way or another? Yet Jesus meets us where we are as surely as He did Zacchaeus, so we should just lighten up! Also it seems axiomatic that Jesus would come especially for the lost and the wayward.
It is not that God does not love those who have always remained in the flock as was pointed out to the faithful son in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). God loves us all, but why can’t we rejoice as God does in Heaven when one of His lost comes home? As I just pointed out, it might just be us whom God is rejoicing over.
What is noteworthy is that God calls each of us to a different response to His gift of grace upon grace. Zacchaeus was called to give away half his possessions. Yet, the rich young man was called by Jesus to sell all that he owned and follow Jesus (Luke 18: 18-30). God does not ask the same thing from everyone, except faith in Jesus as Risen Lord. This is important to keep in mind when we ponder how we and others respond to the gifts God has bestowed upon us.
The main thing, as this passage reminds us, is that no matter our past or the sins we have committed, we should seek out Jesus. Trust that Jesus will find us where we are and accept us as we are. What He will not do is keep us as we are. He will change us, as He did Zacchaeus. How that change manifests itself is as varied as the number of people in the world. Do not worry about whether another is “worthy” or not. Simply focus on your trust in God and His son Jesus the Christ and then let your belief drive your obedience in whatever direction He calls you.
Praise Be to God