Yesterday’s Scripture text was a great story, one of my favorite, about the conversion of Zaccheus (see Luke 19). He is an interesting character who could probably have been a good patient for a psychiatrist. The name Zaccheus means “righteous one.” Our names are usually a strong indicator of our parent’s desires. To name a child “righteous one” exposes very high expectations. Before he met Jesus, Zaccheus had been anything but righteous. It is possible that he had been a severe disappointment to his parents.
Zaccheus had another outstanding feature – he was “small in stature.” This means he was short. I know from experience when you have a physical feature that is so noticeable it gets mentioned when you are described, it was probably a cause of ridicule when he was a child. He might have had a difficult time fitting in with his peers because of this difference.
Imagine Zaccheus, a disappointment to his parents and rejected by his peers, wanting to prove himself, to become somebody special. The easiest way to be liked and accepted is to become rich, since everyone loves rich people. So, Zaccheus decided to become wealthy. The problem, however, in Zaccheus’ day the best way to become rich was to take a job as a tax collector, and everyone hated tax collectors. That is who he was when he met Jesus.
One day he heard that Jesus was coming to town. He wanted to see this legendary prophet, but because he was too short to see over the crowd and he knew no one would allow him to squeeze to the front, he had a problem. He decided to climb a tree in hopes of getting a glimpse of Jesus.
I doubt if he climbed a tree near the road where everyone could see him. That would be extremely embarrassing for the whole town to see a grown man sitting in a tree. He chose a tree off to the side of the road, hoping to get high enough to see, but far enough away that he would not be seen. There he sat, waiting for Jesus.
The prophet came walking down the road, surround by the whole city, pushing and clamoring to get closer. As he came into town, he veered away from the middle of the road and walked straight toward Zaccheus’ tree. The closer Jesus came the more nervous the tax collector felt. Then his worst fears were realized. Jesus stood at the foot of his tree and stopped. The whole city was gathered at the foot of the tree. Zaccheus was scrunching up, trying to hide in the leaves, praying that no one would look up.
Not only did Jesus look up, but when He saw the frightened man, He called him by name – “Zaccheus, hurry and come down…“ At that moment, Zaccheus experienced the grace of God. Whenever the Son of God calls you by name, that is grace.
Zaccheus immediately came down from the tree. His life had been changed. The reason I know his life was changed is because he was no longer a getter, but now a giver. Evidence of a changed life is the desire to give. I like to refer to this as grace giving because it provides evidence that we have experienced God’s grace.
If you don’t like hanging out with “short people,” or folks with physical disabilities, mental disorders, social stigmas or any other kind of malady, then you will not enjoy being with Jesus. The kind of people who often make us uncomfortable are the ones who seemed to be the most attracted to Jesus. In fact, this situation continued into the days of the early church. Paul declared that God did not call the wise, mighty, and noble to make up the church. He called folks like me and you.
Yet, when I read the story of Zaccheus, I’m not sure if many of us would have purposely walked up to the tree and called out to him. We might be glad that he was up in the tree and not wanting to join our merry band of believers. Yet, because of grace, you and I and Zaccheus were all chosen to be a part of what God is doing in the world.