Friday, October 28, 2022

When life is out of synch seek Jesus

This post is based on the story of Zacchaeus as told by Luke in his gospel (19:1-10)

For the son of man came to seek out the lost. Who are the lost that Jesus’ seeks? It is not, what you might suspect, the doomed or damned. Rather it is the literal meaning of the word – something or someone is out of place, and when it is found we return it to the rightful place. Restoring the lost to their proper place is the point of the gospel message.

Luke recalls the story of Zacchaeus to help us understand how easy it is to believe you are in the rightful place, when you are actually lost. Let me explain what I mean by identifying who Zacchaeus is.

Zacchaeus, first of all was a resident of Jericho, one of the wealthiest and most important towns in the Jordan valley. Jewish people had lived there from the time they emerged from their 40 years in the desert. King Herod built his winter palace in this oasis city.  

Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector for this city, meaning he was not only wealthy, but had great power and influence. The Romans trusted him and he had authority over other tax collectors.

As a tax collector he would not be well loved by his fellow citizen, the Jews who lived, worked and try to thrive under roman dominance.  In other words, he was lonely. The only friends he would have were those who were his fellow tax collectors, which he supervised. Hard to find true friends with those under your management.

Zacchaeus believed wealth, power and status was his rightful place. The gospel doesn’t state why Zacchaeus decided to see Jesus, but his choice to do so suggests it was more than curiosity. Perhaps, he had a sense the life he was living was not fulfilling. After all Jesus apparently was speaking about a kingdom.  

Because he was short, he climbed a tree to have a better view of Jesus. But it is also likely he climbed this tree to avoid the crowd that would have given him more elbows and shoves then the whole season a player would experience in the NHL.

And, of course, he climbed the tree, because here it is a safe place to see Jesus. He doesn’t have to directly encounter him. It is a good and safe place to see this Jesus of Nazareth, who everyone is championing. He wanted to know him, but with his conditions.

So this lonely and despised man, runs ahead of the crowd, climbs a tree and waits. Jesus arrives. Jesus doesn’t pass by. He looks up and calls Zachaeus, “hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ 

Notice Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home. A pretty bold invitation, since most people don’t invite you for dinner, then add, “oh by the way, it is at your house.”

This presumptuous invitation by Jesus  reminds me of the story of a party where a host was worried about too many people and not enough refreshments.

The hostess was sure that not all of these people had been invited but didn’t know how to tell which ones were the crashers. Then her husband got an idea. 

He turned to the crowd of guests and said: “Will those who are from the brides side of the family stand up please?” About twenty people stood. Then he asked: “Will those who are from the groom side of the family stand up as well?” about twenty five people stood up. Then He smiled and said: “Will all those who stood up please leave, this is a birthday party”.

Zacchaeus, however, didn’t mind Jesus inviting himself.  As a despised tax-collector he wouldn’t feel comfortable meeting Jesus in a local Tim Horton’s or some other coffee shop. He would feel comfortable meeting Jesus in the safety of his home, free from those who despised him and in an environment he could control. It is this knowledge that moved him from his place of safety, to come down and meet Jesus.

Notice how the gospel language changes. The critics on the sideline now say, Jesus has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner, indicating  Zacchaeus has gone  from a person ‘wanting to see Jesus’ to one who wanted to host Jesus. Everything changed. Instead of seeking wealth and status, he now found true joy by sharing his wealth and even repaying those he cheated. He was restored to his true identity, a son of Abraham. He was lost, and now he has been found.  All it took was meeting with Jesus in a place in which he felt comfortable.

We have all experienced times when we feel lost or our life is out of synch or the joy we once had is missing. In times like this remember, all we need to do is look to see Jesus. He is  always ready to invite himself into our life story. He knows, meeting a person where they are comfortable will help them discover their rightful place.

And for others, Jesus never worries if uninvited guests choose to crash his party. Anyone who wishes to be nourished by what he has to offer, he is happy to include. He is happy to let them know, they are in the right place.

After all, the son of man came to seek out the lost.

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