Thursday, October 30, 2008

Out on a Limb

He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.

                        Luke 19.3

The Need to See

The story of Zacchaeus, the diminutive tax collector, never grows old for me. It delighted me as a Sunday school tyke (mostly because we sang a clever little nursery rhyme based on it) and it still does. As an adult, though, I’ve got a much greater appreciation of what it’s about and why Luke included it in his Gospel. When you boil it down to its essence, Zacchaeus’s story mirrors that of anyone looking for Christ.

It takes place in Jericho, where Zacchaeus has earned a lot of money—and much hostility from the locals—as a tax collector. One day Jesus passes through town. As always, news of His arrival travels quickly and generates a crowd. Zacchaeus wants to get a look at the Man behind the commotion, but everyone else is taller than he. The need to see inspires a Plan B. He dashes ahead of them to scamper up a tree, high enough to see Jesus as He walks by. When the Lord gets there, He stops and calls him by name. “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” The people aren’t happy about this. After Jesus enters Zacchaeus’s house, they mutter, “He’s gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” But what occurs inside the house is what’s important. Zacchaeus tells Jesus he intends to give half of all he has to the poor and repay anyone he may have cheated four-fold. Hearing this, Christ declares, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

Take the Initiative

It’s the same now as it was then. There’s always a tall crowd buzzing around Jesus, making it impossible for anyone reduced by hostility and rejection to get a good look at Him. If that’s the case for us, we’ve got two options. Either we hover around the edges, preening and peering through the masses for a tiny glimpse or, like Zacchaeus, we take the initiative, pull away from the crowd, and go out on a limb where we can fully see Him.

When Zacchaeus did that, no doubt he felt silly. Short and despised though he was, surely he thought to himself, “This is beneath me. I’m a rich, important man. If people see me hanging in a tree, I’ll be the town laughingstock.” But when he considered the alternative—never seeing Jesus—up he went, leaving all concerns about personal pride and professional reputation below. In that moment, Zacchaeus made the decision of his life, because his efforts to see Jesus resulted in Jesus seeing him.

Christ in Our House

We don’t find Jesus. He finds us. And when He does, He invites Himself into our house. He comes unattended, gently closing the door behind Him to visit with us one-on-one, far from the milling, muttering crowd that thinks we’re not good enough for the Lord. Christ in our house changes our views about everything. His presence diminishes the value of all we gained prior to this and the compromises we made to get it. Our attention moves from what we want to what others need. We commit to putting what’s best for them above our interests, knowing by faith that Christ in our lives ensures full provision of whatever we lack.

After proclaiming salvation for Zacchaeus’s house, Jesus added something else—something essential for us to understand: “This man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Zacchaeus’s successful career as a taxman isolated him from his people. To their thinking, it was impossible to work for Caesar and serve God at the same time; anyone who did had no right to call himself a Jew, one of God’s chosen. Jesus thought differently, however. “Zacchaeus is one of us,” He said. “I came looking for him. I’m here by choice.” Luke ends the story there. He doesn’t tell us if the Jericho crowd revised its low regard for Zacchaeus or if his encounter with Christ made him look any taller. Anyone else’s opinion wasn’t important to Jesus or Zacchaeus. It’s not important to us, either. When Jesus chooses us, what others think about that makes no difference whatsoever.


Going out on a limb to see Jesus allows us to be seen.

(Tomorrow: The Believer’s Costume)

Postscript: Two New Friends

Briefly, I want to introduce two new Straight-Friendly friends, both of whom you’ll be glad to know.

Leonardo Ricardo is an American ex-pat painter who’s lived mostly in Latin America for the past 20 years. Even from that distance, he remains tightly connected to the political and faith fronts here in the States and the world at large. His blog, Eruptions at the Foot of the Volcano, is a must-read for anyone concerned about social injustice, homophobia, and religious discrimination.

Jason Del Giudice is a Web designer with something I think a lot of you bloggers will like. He’s developed code and graphics that display a random Scripture each time a new page is loaded. It’s totally free and customizable. If this appeals to you, find out more on his Sacred Mint site.


Sarko Sightings said...

I agreen that nursery rhyme was the best, but for some reason I am drawing a blank! Your next blog should be a you tube video of you singing the song! Ok that might be a little to much but anyhow, thanks for your blog!

Tim said...

Sarko, welcome!

Trust me, you don't want me to sing for you. But here are the words. Maybe they'll jog your memory.

Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in the sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see
Then came Jesus passing by
He looked up in the tree
Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I'm going to your house for tea!

Let me know if that helps.


Leonardo Ricardo said...

Zacchaeus tells Jesus he intends to give half of all he has to the poor and repay anyone he may have cheated four-fold. Hearing this, Christ declares, “Today salvation has come to this house.¨

I can´t help but think of America and next Tuesday...Tuesday salvation has come to our country...I believe that is what is needed...there is much to repent and out-shouting neighbors isn´t going to help us love them.

Thanks for the nice welcome.

Best to you and yours,


Tim said...

Leonardo, I think we're all praying for salvation to come to our house this Tuesday. And you're so right, the shouting has to stop.

It's not for nothing that Isaiah's prophecy of Israel's salvation begins right off the bat with God telling them, "Come now, let us reason together... If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword."

If we think we're sick of all this contention whipped up by self-serving demagogues and media figures, imagine how nauseated God must be. Win or lose, I pray we as a people--right and left--will learn the difference between manipulating others to get our way and loving them as we give God right of way in our lives.

Thanks for your comment. It's always a joy to see you here!