(Jesus and Zacchaeus Luke 19:1-10)
During a walkabout in Jericho, Jesus notices a short man perched in a tree, craning to see him. We don’t really know Zacchaeus’s motivation to see Jesus. Crowd curiosity? Perhaps. When he was shopping for groceries, had he seen a picture of Jesus in the National Jewish Enquirer and wanted to see this miracle worker first hand? By this time in Jesus ministry he had healed the sick, turned water into wine, cast out some demons and fed a few thousand people from one boy’s lunch. Curious indeed, Zacchaeus just needed to see this man.
Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, a contract employee of the occupying Romans. Whether or not he had ever been teased because of his height, he was definitely spurned for his occupation. He was wealthy because of the thievery of his associates and himself. Think of Zacchaeus as the local businessman in your neighbourhood who has recently been charged with, and convicted of, embezzling a few million dollars. Probably not someone you would strike up a conversation with on the street, let alone invite to your back yard barbecue. Zacchaeus is a wounded heart, for sure.
Jesus knows all this, yet not only does he publicly acknowledge Zacchaeus, he goes as far as to invite himself to Zacchaeus’ house. And it’s not just a short visit; Jesus insists he must stay at his house.
Because Jesus was secure in who he was, and secure in his relationship with his Father, he didn’t care what others might have thought. He didn’t care if onlookers were shocked. Pride of status had no place in Jesus’ heart.
Equally important, Jesus would have felt no pride in his graciousness to this sinner. Early in my Christian walk, some friends and I would head to the absolute worse part of town to go street witnessing. I look back on this time and realize my mixed motives in it all. Yes, I wanted people to know how much Jesus loved them. Of course, I wanted these people in the inner city to be free from drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, I also liked the boost it gave to my ego. People in our church praised us. And in my insecurity and woundedness I thought it had earned me some extra favour with God. There was none of this in Jesus’ heart. He simply loved Zacchaeus. Nothing else was important.
In ministry, we must guard our hearts so that we are not motivated by pride, or by the flip side of the same coin, insecurity. Some of the most proud people I know are also the most insecure. Flaunting their ministry accomplishments–even veiled in the Christian-eze “Look what God did”– is merely a prop to their wounded security. The Kingdom of God is based on Jesus’ example of grace. He gave His life freely for us with no personal gain attached to it.
Equally important, we must also be like Jesus in our avoidance of the use of shame as an instrument of change. Public shaming, or even private shaming for that matter, had no role in Zacchaeus’ repentance. It’s interesting to note that in this account Jesus doesn’t seem to challenge Zacchaeus about anything! And Jesus, who certainly knew all about Zacchaeus, could have come up with many things that needed correcting. “Zacchaeus, you need to tithe properly.” “Zacchaeus, you have taken too much money from the people.” The account records simply that after Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house, Zacchaeus was moved to repentance.
In our hearts, most of us know our shortcomings. Even though we are masters at cover- up, we know that what we have been doing, or thinking, is against the principles of the kingdom of God. Jesus did not use shame to elicit a response from Zacchaeus; rather, Jesus’ unconditional acceptance of Zacchaeus provided a way out of the shame Zacchaeus carried in his heart. Never use shame tactics or emotional manipulation to bring repentance.
Early in my own recovery process God brought along a man who has become a dear friend and true brother. He was, and still is, my pastor, and he loved me unconditionally (which I’m sure was very hard to do on some days). God’s grace and mercy flowed out of him to me. Through his acceptance, I was able to put down my religious, perfectionist shield. My rage came out. My deep shame bubbled to the surface, no longer contained by my pride and judgement. I began to truly see the sin in my heart; I began to truly be free in Christ. With this man’s Christ-like love, which had no room for pride and shame, and with the guidance of a Christian counsellor, the shackles on my life began to break.