Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house." So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner." Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:1-10, NKJV)
Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. Sound familiar to you? In my Sunday School past, that was pretty much the theme of the story Luke related in his Gospel account. A short, despised tax collector in Jericho had a desire to see the Rabbi as He passed through town. There were many people pressing in and, because he couldn't get through the crowd and was too short to see over the top, Zacchaeus found a tree beside the road where Jesus would pass so he could at least catch a glimpse of Him. That really was all it seemed he wanted at the time - just a quick look in passing to satisfy his curiosity. What he got goes far beyond this version.
As I was reading recently, I came upon a description of the Eastern practice of meal sharing, the one that would have been the prevalent standard in Jesus' day. While we may think relatively little about having lunch or dinner with somebody, such was not the case when this story unfolded. And we're not talking about offering to take somebody to our favorite restaurant and picking up the check either. This meal shared between Jesus and Zacchaeus was an intimate, extended social engagement.
Brennan Manning (in Reflections for Ragamuffins) notes that "in the East, to share a meal with someone is a guarantee of peace, trust, brotherhood, and forgiveness; the shared table is a shared life." Now, I don't know about you, but that's not something I heard in Sunday School when this story came up. Looking at it through this lens, the heart of the story is the very same as we've seen in so many others. Jesus singles out an individual, presents Himself as only He can, and a life is changed.
Jesus had already been criticized by the religious establishment for his fellowship with the common riff-raff. Knowing what we know of Zacchaeus' reputation in the town, one can only imagine nobody in Jericho looked kindly on Him inviting Himself to the despised tax collector's house. But should we find any of this surprising? Not if we really understand the heart, message, and mission of the Messiah. He knew full well the character of the man he was following down the street. He knew the back-handed deals, the lies, and the cheating. He even knew that Zacchaeus was hiding up in the leaves above the "parade route", hoping only for a glimpse of the Rabbi. And with the compassion that only Jesus can display, He did exactly what we should expect Him to do - He reached out in love and forgiveness. He shared a meal in the man's home, demonstrating that God will go to any length to win back the heart that walked away. No, this was no ordinary lunch date at all.
My travels on the Crooked Path began with an individual encounter with the Savior. Just like He did with Zacchaeus, Jesus sought me out, called me down, and told me that He must come to my house and sit down at the table with me. He offered forgiveness like no one else can provide, and He backed it up by taking on the punishment and shame that were my birthright. He offered me the security of a Shared Life both now and forever. No matter what I come across, He is with me ... and it isn't just some lunch date.
- What are you looking for today - a casual lunch date, or a shared meal leading to a shared life?
- Put yourself in the position of the townspeople Zacchaeus had cheated. What kind of a Rabbi would willingly sit down and offer peace and safety to such a scoundrel?
- Are you keeping Jesus at a distance, offering just to "meet Him for coffee" instead of inviting Him in like He asks? If you are, what's stopping you from trusting Him enough to do what even Zacchaeus did so willingly?