A couple Sunday’s ago we read the story of Zacchaeus in the Gospel. I’ve come to realize just how much this story sums up the whole Christian experience. I mean here’s a guy who’s spent the majority of his life screwing over regular old Joe’s like us. To add insult to injury, that nice tunic that you couldn’t afford, is hugging his overfed belly just a bit too tightly. Yes, I imagine Zacchaeus looking something like Danny DeVito.
So how are we similar?
First, the Gospel tells us that this man was the chief tax collector, in other words; he was rich (hence the fancy tunic and expanding waist detail, which I added for dramatic effect ;p). Then it tells us that he just wanted to see Jesus. Bored from his extravagant lifestyle, Zacchaeus gives us the same reminder that St. Augustine knew all too well: “You created us for yourself Oh God and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” All the fancy tunics and food in the world were not satisfying this short man! Sound familiar yet??
The Gospel goes on to explain that he climbs a tree because he couldn’t see. The crowd was too thick and he was too short. Let’s put on our spiritual glasses for a moment and talk about what it means to be spiritually above the crowd and spiritually short. First, as Christians we are called to “be above the crowd.” Indeed we are all sinners, but still I am called to something greater. When “the crowd” gets so thick and I can no longer see good from evil I am called to “climb”. I am called to do whatever is necessary to see Jesus. Secondly, we should all desire to be spiritually “short” in stature. After all, Jesus said of the little ones, “the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Mat 19:14).
Next we are told Jesus looked and saw Zacchaeus in the tree. Behold my dear friends the power of a word study. This word looked in the Greek is anablepo. Ana meaning, ‘gazing into the midst,’ and blepo meaning, ‘perceiving, understanding.’ When put together the word takes on an even deeper meaning, ‘to receive sight!’ So let’s be clear: Christ gazes into Zacchaeus and gives him understanding! Where do we first see this in scripture? Genesis 2:22, God gives Adam the command to call and name the creatures and takes a step back and says, “let us see (a form of looking) what he will call them.” Okay, so lets put it all together from the beginning. First God creates everything. Then God gives everything to humanity. Specifically he gives Adam the gift to call and to name. However, before one can call and name one must first SEE (Anablepo). So Christ, being the new Adam, SEES the short chubby man in the tree. Then what does he do? Lk 19:5 “Zacchaeus, come down from that tree.” CHRIST CALLS HIM BY NAME!!! The word call in the Hebrew is qara it means ‘to give purpose to or to commission’ in Latin its Vocatio!! VOCATION!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Friends, in one gesture, described by one word (looked/anablepo), Zacchaeus is a changed man. He is a man with purpose, a man with a calling, a man commissioned with a duty to fulfill. Something miraculous has happened here! We know this because we are told that Zacchaeus returns what he has taken.
What does this mean for us? We too are sinners. Yet, we are called to be above the crowd so that we can see Jesus. Jesus will come and call us! He did this with Samuel, with David, with Joseph, etc. He will give us sight. This sight (a deep knowledge a perception) leads to our commission. Lk 19:5 “make haste and come down, for I must dwell with you.” The ultimate Vocation is to be who we were created to be, that is, holy dwelling places of the Lord!!
This parallel goes even deeper. Christ too will climb a tree in scripture, the tree of the cross. On that tree He will gain for us the ability to have the Spirit come and dwell inside us. On that cross He takes away original sin which leaves a gaping hole in our hearts; a hole that can only be filled by God alone, forever making us tabernacles: Holy dwelling places of the Lord! When Christ tells Zacchaeus that He needs to dwell with him, it’s a prefigurement for the ultimate dwelling that is to come. That did come on Pentecost!
Why the sinner? Why Zacchaeus? Why us? Because what victory is there for God to come and dwell with those already Holy? It is precisely because Zacchaeus is little with sin and brokenness that the Lord chooses to manifest himself in him. We too are called to climb the tree of the Cross – to die with Christ. And remember, when we die with him we will rise with him (Tim 2:11).
Are you ready to climb?