One thing that is so clear as I read through the Gospels is the steady refrain that things aren’t always what they seem.
The first are last and the last are first. The King of kings comes wrapped in humility, not political might. Blessed are the poor, mourning, meek, hungry, persecuted.
The ones who appear righteous, moral, and most devout – the ones armed with the most Scriptural knowledge – are the ones who consistently miss Jesus. And the ones looked down on, uneducated, the outcasts, the sinners are the ones who experience radical life changes through their encounters with Jesus.
Those who should be the most overjoyed coming face to face with the long-awaited Messiah are the ones digging in their heels protecting who they are, what they have built for themselves, and their social status…all in the name of God. Conversely, the ones thought most unclean, unrighteous, unworthy by society are the ones unashamedly running to Jesus, and as a result, rejoicing in healing and wholeness.
On this day in Jericho, while the religious leaders were seeking to trap Jesus, the extremely wealthy, despised chief tax collector scurries ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree for a mere chance to see Jesus as He passes by. But Jesus doesn’t simply pass by. Jesus stops. He stops under the branches of the tree, looks up, and calls him by name.
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today,” Jesus says.
The crowd grumbles. How dare this teacher associate with such a disgraceful human being, they mutter among themselves and aloud.
But Zacchaeus is overjoyed. Yes, come to my house! Dinner it is!
We don’t know what was said over that dinner, but we know that Zacchaeus’ life was radically changed as a result of this encounter.
His entire adult life Zacchaeus likely heard from the Jewish religious crowd that he was a sinner, that he needed to repent, that he needed to stop extorting the Jewish people, that he needed to give to the poor. While all of this is true, it had no impact on his life.
But Jesus looking up at him from the bottom of that tree, noticing him, loving him at that moment, insisting He dine at his house, engaging with him…THIS forever changed his life.
“Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” Zacchaeus is a transformed man with renewed priorities.
Love for Jesus is the greatest motivation for change. Far more than legalism, guilt, lectures, or manipulation.
May we not be fooled by what we see. Things aren’t always what they seem indeed. No one is too far gone for Jesus to stop, look up at, engage with, and radically change. In fact, they are the most likely to get His attention. May love be a mighty force for change in our lives and the lives of those we love.
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