We have all heard the statement; “I am really up a tree!” It usually indicates that one is experiencing a great difficulty. They only way down is to find a solution to the problem so life can move forward. The experience of being up a tree also implies a shift in one’s life—it won’t be the same once a solution has been worked out.
Our friend Zacchaeus had to go up the tree in order to solve his problem. He had to overcome his limitation in order to see Jesus. His limitation was a barrier. When taking a group picture they never put short people in the back row because you would not see them. From the story we get the impression that all he wanted to do is to see Jesus. I am sure he had heard a lot about this miracle worker and teacher. His curiosity is what drove him up a tree. Little did he know that this would lead to repentance and his conversion. There was one other person in the gospels who was curious about seeing Jesus, and his name was King Herod. His curiosity did not lead him to repentance. The difference between the two is that Zacchaeus wanted to “see” Jesus. The Greek word for “see” doesn’t imply physical seeing as much as it implies seeing with one’s mind or heart—a spiritual seeing. Herod, on the other hand, simply wanted to physically see Jesus.
Zacchaeus is our teacher this Sunday, regarding: “How to form a personal relationship with Jesus?” First of all, He teaches us that we have to have a desire to “see” Jesus and this desire is rooted in the heart. What needs to awaken our hearts in order to have a desire to “see” Jesus? Maybe it is a sense of feeling incomplete, or the feeling that something or someone is missing in our lives. Second, Zacchaeus teaches us that we have to overcome our own limitations in order to see Jesus. Here I speak not so much about physical limitations, but about our spiritual limitations. It may mean coming to grips with our own sinfulness, or confronting our desire for more stuff in our lives so that we can feel good about who we are. In our culture, what we have oftentimes defines who we are. We must always remember that things, or status, or power do not define who we are. Zacchaeus had to confront what made him wealthy. Tax collectors made their money by overcharging people—we call it extortion; and this was in addition to being short of stature. Third, Zacchaeus teaches us that we need repentance or change of heart that alters our lifestyle. Listen to Zacchaeus’ change of heart implied: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over (Luke 19:8).” The next day when he went back to his tax collecting booth, he took only what was coming to him and nothing more. Zacchaeus was probably a Jewish man who worked as a tax collector for the Roman government. This meant that he was ostracized from the community and no good Jewish person would have anything to do with him. Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus healed the wounds of being ostracize from his people: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham (Luke 19:9).” His conversion must have been significant, because he is remembered in the gospels.
If we follow the lesson Zacchaeus is teaching us, we too may hear Jesus say to us, “Today salvation has come to this house.” I speak not about your house—the place where you live, but your heart—the place from which you live.
Yours in Christ,