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Pursuing Jesus Like Zacchaeus

by Justin Simmons

We all remember singing the children’s song, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he!” It was one of my childhood favorites and most of us feel as though we know it quite well. But do we? The challenge with stories like Zacchaeus is that they can become too familiar. We become so sure of the knowledge from singing those children’s songs that we fail to see the deeper truths that this seemingly simple story has to offer.

The story picks up with Jesus drawing nearer to Jerusalem, where the shadow of the cross looms larger: “He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich” (Luke 19:1-2 ESV). We are told who Zacchaeus is: he is a chief tax collector and rich. But we are not told which of these things define him in the author’s eyes. Though tax collectors are portrayed positively in Luke’s Gospel, the rich receive a fair amount of criticism: the parable of the rich man and Lazarus depicts a wealthy man completely unconcerned with the suffering around him, and Jesus himself says “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). So is Zacchaeus more like the humbly repentant tax collector praying in the temple, or the rich man oblivious to Lazarus suffering at his gate? This struggle for identity is not unique to Zacchaeus. All of us play a number of roles, hold a number of positions, and have different types of relationships. Any of these might be used to define who we are, either by ourselves, or by others.

But what if our job, our socio-economic status, or our relationships are not what truly define us? What if we are defined instead by what we pursue?

And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. (Luke 19:3-6)

There are a number of things that could have prevented Zacchaeus from pursuing Jesus. He could have decided there were too many taxes to collect to worry about glimpsing another would-be Messiah. He could have prioritized managing or spending his wealth over going to see what all the fuss was about. Or when he arrived and found the crowd blocking his view, he could have just walked away with a shrug of the shoulders, resigning himself to having arrived too late. And even when he realized that he could run ahead of the crowd and climb a tree to look at Jesus, he could have dismissed the idea as unbecoming of his status. Grown men were seldom seen running in Jesus’s day, and they certainly did not climb trees like little boys!

Yet, none of these things deter Zacchaeus. His entire agenda is governed by the singular goal of seeing Jesus. To achieve this one pressing aim, Zacchaeus is willing to push everything else to the back burner. It is in looking for Jesus that Zacchaeus discovers that Jesus has been looking for him.

And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)

Zacchaeus cannot control how others feel about his encounter with Jesus, but he can control how that encounter shapes his interactions with others. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, people question John the Baptist about the nature of true repentance. John tells them to share with those who have nothing, to not collect more taxes than are owed, and to not extort others using threats or false accusations (Luke 3:10-14). Zacchaeus’s response to Jesus does all of these things: he gives half his wealth to the poor, and rather than simply committing to not overcharging and extorting anyone (which is how tax collectors make their money), he volunteers to make restitution fourfold to those he might have cheated!

When he first meets Zacchaeus, Jesus tells him, “I must stay at your house today.” Once he has arrived, Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Jesus is salvation! His name literally means “Yahweh (God) saves,” or “Yahweh is salvation.” The salvation Jesus brings to Zacchaeus is not limited to the promise of a better life in eternity. This salvation flows out of the future into the present, touching how Zacchaeus sees himself, and how he treats those around him.

Could it be that some of the problems we face as individuals, as families, and even as churches are the result of us having too small a view of salvation? Do we think of salvation as something purchased by Jesus in the past, but not to be realized until the future? Is it possible that we are so focused on being with Jesus in the future, that we neglect being with him in the present? What crowds are blocking our ability to see that Jesus is with us, even now? Are we willing to run, to climb, and even to look silly in the eyes of others in order to really see Jesus? Jesus comes to our house with the promise of a better future and with the ability to transform the present into a reflection of better things yet to come. The good news of the gospel is not that we will be with Jesus; it is that he is already with us.


Justin Simmons is the minister at Glenmora Church  of Christ, Glenmora, LA.

This article came from http://mosiacsire.org


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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10