November 2015 Final Issue
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Zacchaeus , A Wee Little Man

A few weeks ago, I sat in a coffee shop with a dear friend. As two people who run ministries, we found ourselves discussing the typical challenges and conflicts that tend to arise in the “religious” world. He had found himself in the midst of quite a dilemma among his team. The question churning inside of him was: “What does it look like to walk out Matthew 18 in light of this particular conundrum I find myself in today?” "If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector" (Matthew 18:17, NIV). As you can imagine, this verse is usually brought to the forefront when we’re struggling with someone’s rebellion and usually denial. There are a myriad of situations, of course, that can bring us to the need for this God-given solution. Jesus is always the solution. Believe it or not, Jesus is actually the one speaking in this passage in Matthew 18. I know that should be obvious, but what seems like such an evident point, is often overlooked. Somehow, we have interpreted this passage through the ages as if a Pharisee were the one giving instruction, and we have assumed the scripture is telling us to kick the person in question to the curb. When we hear that someone should be treated as a pagan or a tax collector, for some reason that immediately strikes in us a desire to shun or remove ourselves from that person. However, that’s not what Jesus ever did. If we’re going to treat someone as a pagan or tax collector upon Jesus’ direction, then we certainly should model how He Himself dealt with the very people to whom He referred. Perhaps the best way to grasp Jesus’ lesson in Matthew 18 is to look at how He handled Zacchaeus who was not just a tax collector, but a chief tax collector. When I was a little girl in Sunday school, over and over we would sing this song….

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the Savior passed that way, He looked up in the tree. And He said, ‘Zacchaeus, you come down. For I’m going to your house today. For I’m going to your house today….’”

Sound familiar? For many of us, that’s about all the thought we have given to Zacchaeus. Luke’s gospel is the only account of Zacchaeus in the entire Bible, and we only have nine verses to go on in Luke 19:1-9. However, there is so much packed into those nine verses, and from them we can gain insight into God’s heart in walking out Matthew 18. Zacchaeus indeed was a wee little man. As Luke tells us, he was short in stature. The average height of men in the days of the early church was 5’2”. With that said, the observation of “short” must have truly been about the height of my ten-year-old son, or even less. As a chief tax collector, we know he was a Jew, and chose to betray his own people and work for the enemy, the Roman Empire. The Jewish people would have considered this the ultimate betrayal, as he would’ve been gaining wealth through oppressing them, robbing them, and keeping them in a constant state of poverty. He would have been completely despised by all. Think for a moment how you would feel about a person who continuously robs from you, your family, and your neighbors. Of course, with all the hype of this Jesus passing through town, and the inevitable crowds that must have been forming on the streets with everyone wanting to get a peek and see for themselves, it makes sense for this wee little man to climb a tree to make sure he could get a good look. I also imagine that tree was a bit of a shelter, a hiding place, as Zacchaeus knew who he was and how everyone felt about him. If this Jesus was in fact the real deal, He probably wouldn’t take too kindly to such a dishonest, greedy man as Zacchaeus. It might be safe to bet that Zacchaeus wanted to get a look at Jesus without Jesus necessarily noticing him at all. Given just those facts, can you envision how modern-day religion would approach or “handle” Zacchaeus? Remember, he had been quite naughty. Would he be told that he can’t be a member or can’t “join” until he gets himself right and makes amends? Would he be told what a sinner he is? A liar? A thief? Would he be commanded to turn from his ways or else? We can all picture the finger-pointing, the accusation, and the demand for groveling and apparent brokenness. There quite possibly could be some five, seven, or ten-step plan that he would have to complete before being accepted. It’s so important, in light of our religious climate, to take notice of what Jesus didn’t say. He didn’t say to Zacchaeus, “Hey you, I know what you’ve done and you better get down here right now and bow before Me or else you’re going to hell”. He could have, but He didn’t. What Jesus did was unheard of. Despite us having this teaching from Him for two-thousand years now, it is still, unfortunately, pretty unheard of. Jesus looked at Zacchaeus, and without ever having met him before, said his name. This is what we would now call a word of knowledge. According to Zacchaeus’ understanding, there would have been no way for this Man, Jesus, to know his name. Just in saying his name, Jesus was expressing to him, “I see you and I know you”. It must have sounded as different to him as the language of the foreigners, and yet at the same time a sense of home so deep. I sense for Zacchaeus it was as if he had finally heard his own native tongue for the very first time in all his life. The power of his name being said by Jesus, goes much deeper than we can ever grasp in the children’s song. You see, the name Zacchaeus actually means: pure one, righteous one.  Although, his name was of course spoken throughout his life, up until that time, something tells me that he had never heard it quite like that before. To be a man whose own people looked upon him as evil, while having the name “pure and righteous one”, must have felt like the 300 pound football player that everyone called “Tiny” or the child who is continuously referred to as “Einstein” after failing class after class. Was there ever a time he had heard his name, Zacchaeus, said without it being seasoned with ridicule, sarcasm, or scorn? I imagine not. Yet, Jesus IS Truth. When the voice of Truth itself says, “Pure one, righteous one...Zacchaeus.” It calls that truth forth into existence. Even though the crowd was already most likely aghast at their foe being the one Jesus took notice of, the radical evangelism was going to get even more extreme. As if it hadn’t already been enough, Jesus then told Zacchaeus in no uncertain terms, “Come down here, I want to hang out with you. I need to abide in your house today.” Zacchaeus was a man who was lost. Everyone knew it. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10, NIV). Jesus’ simple “evangelizing to the lost” plan or “dealing with those who are in rebellion” plan, was and is simpler than most of our religion is willing to fit into:
  • Speak Life, Value, and God’s Design, into and over the person.
  • Let them know they are seen and they matter.
  • Get close to them. In fact, get so close to them that the Love that overflows in you, oozes onto them in such a way they will never be the same.
That’s how Jesus treats tax collectors. For Zacchaeus, that was all it took. No public shaming, no scolding, and absolutely no rejection. In fact, he was completely accepted by the King of Kings. That brief interaction with Jesus completely changed everything for Zacchaeus, because he was embraced. He became totally new in just those moments. New eyes. New ears. New heart. You carry that power as well. Love and compassion dwell in you. Your embrace, your way of seeing people (not by what they’ve done, but as Jesus redeemed them to be), and your willingness to be near those who need Jesus’ touch, will give those who are lost, their Zacchaeus moment. It’s really that simple.
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About Angie Huntley

Angie Huntley
Angie is the Executive Director/Senior Pastor of the Freedom Center in Kalamazoo, MI. Her book, Call It What It Is can be ordered at www.freedomcenterofkazoo.com and you can find more of her writing at Destiny In Bloom and Freedom Center of Kazoo. Angie is wife to Chad and mother of Karissa, CJ, Max, Gabe, and Kai. She is wildly passionate about Jesus and seeing His beloved set free and made new.

One comment

  1. Melissa Moser

    Great encouragement for loving unconditionally, the way The Father loves.

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