Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (New International Version)
Every time I read this story about Zacchaeus climbing up the sycamore tree to see Jesus because he was a short man, I think of the old ‘70s song Short People by Randy Newman. The song was (and still is) criticized by some as being prejudiced against short people.
Indeed, the criticism seems justified with lyrics such as “short people got no reason to live.” Yet, the song’s intended purpose was really the opposite – to be an attack on the pervasive prejudice of the day, and an attempt to “heighten” (pun intended) awareness of other people’s importance.
“Short people are the same as you and I. All men are brothers until the day they die” are the lyrics containing the real message within the song.
At first glance, the story of the short Zacchaeus seems to be about his inability to see. Yet the real heart of the story is that:
Zacchaeus is unable to see because the other people are obstacles to his sight.
In turns out that Jesus is the only person who truly sees Zacchaeus. No one else sees him. No one else seems to care. While everyone else is busy with their own line of sight, Jesus is concerned to see the one person who is unseen: Zacchaeus.
And here’s the reason why Jesus had his radar attuned to picking up Zacchaeus: Because Jesus came to see people like Zacchaeus; Christ came to seek and to save the lost.
One of the most pertinent applications of this story for us, is that we must not be an obstacle for others coming to Jesus – and instead be a conduit for others to meet Jesus. For that to happen, we need a reformation of both attitude and our action.
Our chief obstacle to realizing a reformation is the sort of hindrance that Zacchaeus overcame in order to see Jesus and experience him:
Zacchaeus did not take himself so seriously.
A very serious Zacchaeus would not have been playful enough and much too respectable to climb a tree. Maybe he was used to living with short jokes all his life; I don’t know. I just see a rich businessman who was lighthearted enough to climb a tree; and who lightened up enough to give a big pile of money away.
As a tax collector, metrics and measurements and figures were his world. All of that accounting can create a serious and sterile environment – concerned with doing more, being more, and getting more.
Reformation – reforming oneself, one’s culture, and one’s institutions – comes through the disposition and willingness of not being so doggone serious all the time.
Hanging one’s happiness and well-being on other people adopting my opinions, my plans, and my way is a surefire prescription for getting knocked down several pegs by both others and God.
A reformation comes through collegiality, cooperation, and collaboration with others. To acknowledge that God is God, and I am not, and that all people (even the ones I don’t like) are just as important as me, is to see with new eyes. This is the way of seeing Jesus because it’s the willingness to climb trees and to not care how it makes me look to do it.
People short on faith, short on hope, and short on love desperately need the love of God in the gracious person of Jesus Christ.
Let us then, help, and not hinder, people’s ability to see Jesus.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, NIV)
Let us not become discouraged when our expectations obscure our sight.
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. (Matthew 11:2-5, NIV)
Let us have eyes to see and not be blinded by our own seriousness.
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (John 9:39, NIV)
Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9, NIV)
Let us humble ourselves and stoop to see the incredible reality in front of us.
As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mark 16:5-7, NIV)
Let us see and believe.
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
and put everything under their feet.”
In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:6-9, NIV)
In God’s kingdom, the tall are short, and the short are tall. And there are plenty of trees to climb so that everyone can see Jesus.
Loving Lord Jesus, give me the grace to see you in all things throughout my days on this earth. Help me to see your benevolent kingdom come and see your ethical will be done, here on earth, as it is always done in heaven. Amen.