Our Zaccheus Challenge
The gospel today gives us a marvellous and moving insight into the humanity of Jesus Christ. In all his ministry, he experienced everything we experience, yet he did not sin. And his understanding and love towards those who sin is something we still grapple with ourselves.
When the usual reaction to Zacchaus was one of derision, Jesus responded in a way that could be termed as both godly and human. Godly, because he became the restorer of a lost soul, the balm of a sinner, the restoration of true virtue. Human, because he did this through the medium of empathy and kindness.
It is wonderful to contemplate that moment when Jesus stopped under the tree that Zaccheus climbed, and looked up at him. The tax collector, who had cheated the community and made lots of money from those below who lined Jesus’ path, knew that something special was about to happen, and he climbed the tree because he wanted to see.
Let’s pause and say that phrase again: he wanted to see. Yes, even in the midst of that sinful life, he was thirsting to see beyond himself.
The world is forgetting how to recognise the inherent goodness in others. Media has a ravenous appetite for blaming people. Politics often resembles no more than a school playground slanging match. Even in our churches, we are forgetting that we are supposed to love each other, not only those inside the church, but also those outside its walls. We are forgetting that we are all sinners.
The ‘club’ mentality is not something Jesus taught. No, his reaching out to those who were ‘outside’ was shocking. It disturbed his followers. Many couldn’t understand why he associated with sinners. But he reached out, over and over again, to those who were shunned for their sin. Zacchaus was one such individual, but there was a host of others: the adultrous woman, the woman at the well, and all those who were sick (at the time, physical sickness indicated spiritual sickness and sinfuless), such as the lepers, the paralysed man and the woman who tried to touch Jesus’ hem.
And he reached out because he is the Good Shepherd, restoring life to the fallen, giving joy to those who weep.
When we place ourselves in the story, where are we? Do we, like the tax collector, want to see? Are we trying to look out beyond our sinfuless, to Christ Jesus? When in our lives do we climb that tree only to be able to glimpse our God?
It is a sad fact that we can squirm when looking at Christ’s love of the contemporary Zaccheus. We simply don’t want to do it, because it highlights just how unlike Jesus we can sometimes be. And so, it is right to put ourselves in Jesus’ place. We are, after all, his followers. When do we stop at the feet of a sinner and open our lives to that person? When do we give time to someone who wrongs us? When do we surprise everyone around us by following Christ the King of love, by extending true humanity to the thief and the social benefit fraud and the scammer and the hater of our own good intentions? In other words, what is the point of building a church community if it forgets to reach out as an embodiment of Christ the Healer, Christ the Good Shepherd?
All these questions are difficult, because they highlight the streams of grace that flow from this Gospel message, streams of grace that we can often miss altogether as we clamber up the rockface of self-importance. We can forget to trust when we preach how to trust, we can hide inside the walls of our church buildings and liturgies when there are people outside who need help. These people are often the ones we’d rather not know, yet in many cases we are their only chance of meeting Jesus on the road. We are their only chance of them beginning to see. And, just perhaps, we too can be more like them than we’d like to admit; after all, we are sinners too.
So, to return to that moment again, when Jesus stops and looks up at Zaccheus. Put yourself in the tree as the sinner, and what do you need? You need the openness to see, to see beyond your sinfulness and place your trust in Jesus. And then, place yourself in Jesus’ shoes. Stop at the feet of the sinner, and what do you need? You need the same thing: openness to see that sin is not the definition of that person, and that Christ can come to them yet.
We pray for the eyes to see, to be open to God in a world that forgets God. We pray for understanding, and we pray that we might never walk past that tree without stopping to look up. Amen.