Friday, November 1, 2013

The story of Zacchaeus

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1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchæus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.
4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchæus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.
6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
8 And Zacchæus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:1-10)

A question I have asked myself about this story is, “Why did Zacchaeus get this personal attention from Christ?”  I have tried to imagine the situation and it seems to me that the measures he took to try to see Jesus made his faith obvious.

Think about it.  Zacchaeus was rich.  He probably dressed really well.  And when you dress in nice clothes, you tend to be careful about what you do in those clothes so that you can keep the clothes looking nice.  Do you climb trees in your best clothes?  Would you climb a tree in your prom dress or tuxedo?  Probably not.
Yet Zacchaeus was so eager to see Jesus that he was willing to climb a tree for it.  He didn’t care that it might wreck his clothes.  He didn’t care how silly it might look for a grown (and obviously wealthy) man to be sitting in a tree like a little kid.  He didn’t care what people thought of him.  (He was a tax collector, so he was probably used to being scorned by society.)  Up the tree he went.

So Jesus comes by and sees this well-dressed man sitting up in a tree.  He understands instantly that the man took no thought to clothes or dignity in his desire to have a good view.  He sees Zacchaeus has humility.  Humility in a wealthy man is priceless.  Humility is a wide open opportunity for sharing the gospel.  We can see now why Jesus wanted to spend time with Zacchaeus.

I suppose there are two different lessons from this part of the story.  Just as the Lord observed and responded to Zacchaeus’ humility, the Lord still observes and responds to our humility.  In this day of convenience, we show our faith and humility as we go out of our way to approach Him, when we do creative things to overcome the obstacles in our way or when we care more about coming to Christ than looking foolish.

Second, this lets us know how to appreciate others who go out of their way to lay hold on and stay faithful to the gospel.  The child of nonmember parents who comes to church or church activities by himself, the people who ask or knock or search in spite of risk of looking foolish or awkward, the people who cross the bounds of conventional behavior in order to satisfy their curiosity about the gospel, the teens who join the church and are disowned and thrown out of the house by their parents, the adults who give up dishonest employment to join the church—these people deserve special attention and nurturing as the Lord gave to Zacchaeus.  I have a boy in my cub scout bear den who fits one of the profiles I've described above, so this story teaches me to give him special care.

And Zacchæus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.”

How do we interpret Zacchaeus’ declaration in v8?  If it is a statement about what he hasn’t done but is going to do in the future, then this is a wonderful story of repentance. 

But what if Zacchaeus’s statement means that he has been doing this all along? (Note that it is in present tense, just like the Pharisee of the parable who proudly prayed in the temple a list of righteous things he did, which are also in present tense.)  If Zacchaeus was already doing these good things, then this story is about a person who has been unfairly judged and stereotyped by his community who gets a chance to set the record straight and be received into full fellowship in the rest of society.  It might also be a story about how stereotyping can lead to unfair judgments that cause shunning, meaning it was the crowd who had to repent, not Zacchaeus.  It might cause us to ask ourselves who is being marginalized in our communities or schools or wards whose faith and humility might actually surprise us if we truly knew them and gave them a chance.

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