From: Luke 19: 1-10
Jesus had an unusual talent for messing up His own image. As we saw in Unexpected Beginnings, this began early, when He was born in pretty obscure circumstances to people from a titchy little town in the back of beyond. In this case, near the end of His time on earth, when He is attracting the biggest crowds and making this biggest impact, He risks his reputation to accept a man who wouldn’t exactly have been Mr Popular.
It all begins with Jesus travelling through the town of Jericho, on His way to Jerusalem, where the religious leaders and Romans would mock Him, treat Him shamefully, spit on Him and eventually kill Him (Luke 18: 31-33). If there was any time for Him to use every PR trick in the book to bulk up crowd numbers and gain popularity, it was now. If He was a pop band, this was His Farewell tour.
But it’s at this point, when He could do with more followers and when He is on His way to do the toughest mission after asked of anyone that Jesus drops Himself in it. Stuck up a tree in His path is Zacchaeus, the Chief Tax Collector for the region. Tax collectors have never been popular but in Jesus day, they were worse than unpopular. Their work was to fill the pockets of the Romans, the pagan Empire who had invaded and occupied Israel. Worse than that, encouraged by the Romans, they overcharged so they could fill their own pockets too. No wonder Zacchaeus “had become very rich” (Luke 19: 2).
So here was Zacchaeus, a crook, a thief, a betrayer of his own people, faced with Jesus, the Saviour, Holy Son of God, sinless. All good, religious people would have imagined that it was lightning bolt time, or at very best, they would have expected Jesus to ignore the tree-climbing traitor and walk on.
Face to face with a notorious sinner, Jesus does the unexpected.
“Zacchaeus, quick, come down. I must be a guest in your house today.” (Luke 19: 5)
Face to face with a notorious sinner, Jesus invites Himself to dinner. Suddenly, the tree climbing traitor is turned into Jesus host. At the time when His reputation was greatest, Jesus happily risked it all to show love and acceptance to someone who, in the eyes of his own people, was lower than low. No wonder the people around Jesus grumbled (Like 19: 7).
As we will discover later, in Jesus’ Unexpected Friends, Jesus had no time for the distinctions and social norms that made some people popular and others untouchable. For Jesus, all people were to be loved. There is a further part to Zacchaeus’ story that is worth reading closely.
Luke 19: 8-10.
Because of Jesus’ acceptance of Him, Zacchaeus was able to change. Love came first and produced the change. With Jesus coming to his home, Zacchaeus now had the power and ability to turn his life around. Not only was he sorry for what he had done but he was able to make amends, giving half his wealth to the poor and returning four times what he had taken by cheating.
Since he was loved and accepted, he could change. Jesus’ response to this change was to hold Zacchaeus up as an example of what it truly means to receive salvation. Salvation means a change of heart that leads to a change of action. All this came from a little bit of acceptance and Jesus taking a risk.
In your life, who have you made untouchable? Are you more concerned about your reputation than loving people? Who have you been trying to change without loving?
We all have people that we would rather not visit for dinner. We all know of people who, for one reason or another, are not popular or accepted. We all have people we find it easy to love and others who are more difficult to love. We all are aware of high risk people, who, if we publicly accepted, would endanger our social standing.
In this portion of Scripture, Jesus shows us something incredible about what He is like. No matter how busy He is, He takes time to love people, even sinners, even the unpopular, the unkind, the “traitors.” Labels mean nothing to Him. What matters is love, not the squishy, gooey, short-lasting love we see in movies or in magazines but the love that takes risks, crosses social boundaries and accepts the unlovely, even before they change.
Faced with this love for us, what shall we do? Should those of us who are notorious sinners continue in our notorious sin? Should those of us who others have labelled traitors continue in the same ways? No, the right response is to be like Zacchaeus and respond with real repentance: a change in heart that changes our actions.
What about those of us who have built nice reputations, nice friendships and nice lives? Where does this leave us? If the one we call Saviour and Friend loved the unlovable, shouldn’t we? Perhaps our houses and churches should be places where today’s untouchables: the drug addicts, racists, prostitutes, criminals, hackers and cheats can find acceptance. More personally, if we are really following Jesus, our own lives should be marked with real love for those that our society find unlovely, for whatever reason. This is part of what it means to be like Christ.