Zacchaeus. Remember him from your Sunday school days? If you went to Sunday school, that is. If you didn't here's my version. Zacchaeus was the Jewish version of your favorite IRS man. And by that I mean, he was nobody's favorite, because tax collectors were the pariahs of society back then. Not only that, but poor Zacchaeus was short. Now when I say short, I'm not talking about the relative short we talk about in Beve's clan, where they sometimes poke fun at folks under 6 feet tall (this stems I think from the fact that their sister was the shrimp of the family at that height so they had to tease her about something!). I'm talking about a real height disadvantage--a height so short (wow, isn't 'height so short' an oxymoron?) that the little guy couldn't see over the shoulders of even the women in a crowd. And back then, we aren't talking about people of great stature. So he must have been pretty small.
So Zacchaeus, the pariah whose job made people detest him, whose stature made people overlook him, was outcast in just about every way a person could be an outcast in his world. The only time anyone even saw him was when he had his hand outstretched taking their hard-earned money, and you can bet your life those weren't smiling eyes across his table. More like tears and grimmaces. We have people like this in our world of the Christian church. Don't we? People who aren't like us, who like different music or wear their hair differently or have tattooes or piercings or are more bold or not bold enough or...well, are just plain not like us, and, dang, why aren't they?
One day as Zacchaeus was sitting at his table, scratching names off his lists, collecting taxes from the rich and poor and poorer still, the word tumbled through town that Jesus was coming. And before he could get his work cleaned up and stowed, the parade route had formed and there were no front-row seats left...and no one was about to move over for little old Zacchaeus. But Zacchaeus wasn't about to stand at the back of the crowd bouncing up and down (like a pogo stick that wouldn't be invented for another 2000 years), just to catch the smallest glimpse of this Man the whole world had been buzzing about. Instead, he did what any self-respecting tax-collector would do: he climbed a tree so he could see over the crowd.
Really. Zacchaeus, the wealthy, money grubbing, tax-collector, climbed a sycamore-fig tree just to see the Man from Galilee. I don't know how old Zacchaeus was, but as far as I know, most wealthy business people don't spend a whole lot of time climbing trees. There'd have to be a mighty important incentive to make someone already despised do something that could result in more ridicule. So we have to assume Zacchaeus was powerfully motivated. That what--who--he wanted to see was more important than whatever horrible things the world thought of him--or would think of him.
But, of course, when Jesus reached that tree, He stopped and called Zacchaeus by name. "Zacchaeus, come down out of that tree. I must stay at your house tonight." And in my mind I can picture Zacchaeus scrambled down so quickly he actually falls in a heap from the last branch and doesn't even care that he gets a little bruised. All the people along the 'parade' route are muttering about Zacchaeus' unworthiness--"He's gone to be a guest at a sinner's house!" but it doesn't matter because Jesus has chosen the sinner to dine with. He called a sinner from out of a tree. And that is what changed the sinner... Zacchaeus gives away half of his fortune, pays back those he's cheated four times over! Jesus called his name, came to his house and it changed Zacchaeus. For good. That's the punch line of this tree-story.
Here's the thing. I think we have let a whole lot of people slink up in trees. We put conditions on what is acceptable to Jesus, how we must live or act or do or be before we can sup with Jesus. But we're dead wrong. I think we might be surprised at who He calls from our midst to sup with. I think we might be humbled to discover that it's people very different than those we would imagine supping with ourselves. Who He loves, we should love. Who Jesus fellowships with, we should fellowship with--we think it's that easy. But He said, "From the highways and bi-ways, invite them to come in." Call them down out of the trees, and from in their homes where they are trying to recover from the hurt they've been caused. Invite them to come in. Let them know that they are welcome among us. Yes, no matter what, let them know that they are welcome. No, more than that, let them know that they are just like us. Because, in fact, they are just like us. And we are just like them. There is no us and them in this whole mess that needed God to come to earth as a Man. We're all sinners. Every one of us. All of us. ALL of us. But as His saved-ones, we also have the privilege of being His voice that calls others out of their trees--so that He can sup with them. And save them.
"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." 1 John 1: 8