Zach, a corrupt rich short guy wanted to see Jesus. Corrupt yes, he had swindled money from his tax-paying fellow citizens and this made him very rich. Short in stature, he was. I’m sure he had Napoleon’s Complex. You know it? All short people have it. Because they think the world looks down on them, they have to act big, be extra assertive and talkative. He was considered a traitor. His fellow Jews considered any Jew a traitor if they worked for a foreign occupying nation, the Romans. Simply put, he was a sinner. He was an outcast.
But he wanted to see Jesus.
There is something uncommon about Jesus. He attracted and was attractive to the wrong people, the wrong crowd. They loved him. They ate and drank with him. But good moral people hated and despised him. They complained and moaned about him. They even wanted to kill him. Two different reactions to the same man based on their perception of who he was. To sinners, he was a savior. To good moral people, he was a threat to their traditions and positions in society.
Zach decided to climb a tree to see Jesus. This is a practical step. I would have done the same. Practical yes but with gospel implications.
The climbing of the tree is a metaphor for what every human being does in trying to “see” God. We know intuitively that we are short of the glory of God, that we don’t measure up to God’s laws, that we are not perfect, that we know we are far from God, and because our conscience bothers us, we seek to “climb the tree”. Climbing the tree is our attempt to reach God. To see God.
Religious people climb the tree by performing spiritual activities such as prayer, fasting, giving money to their religious community and the poor, taking spiritual retreats and journeys, raising godly kids, being faithful members of a religious institution, good neighbors, etc.
Non-religious people (an oxymoron because when you replace religious beliefs with other beliefs you are just changing religions) climb the tree by being good moral people, nice and kind people, charitable people, hardworking people, wealthy people, experienced people, environmentally conscious people, social justice warriors, tax compliant citizens, etc.
Like Zach, we are all climbing the tree – either through our religiosity or good moral standing. And when Jesus came to the place he looked up and saw him. Only Jesus really sees us for who we are – tree climbers and yet he loves us.
And said to him, Zach make haste and come down. Again, another act with profound gospel implications. Come down is katabaino in Greek, which means descend. Zach speedily descended. He descended from the tree of performance – the tree that defined his significance and worth.
This climbing down is a huge ask. What if what you have in life was a result of your climbing up the tree? What if who you are is tied to your ability to climb the tree so successfully? What if the sum total of who you are has been your ability to successfully climb the tree – climb the corporate ladder (tree) – climb the social ladder (tree), climb the educational ladder (tree), climb the political ladder (tree), climb the parenting ladder (tree), climb the godly marriage ladder (tree), etc.?
Here, a rich guy was told to climb down the tree – he was told that in essence, his performance didn’t matter. His moral performance didn’t cut it. All his hard work of trying to reach God amounted to zilch. It took humility for Zach to climb down the performance tree – which in itself was a miracle of grace.
Then Jesus in his grace said to Zacchaeus, “Yoh, bro, today I must stay at your house.” Simply put, Jesus juxtaposes law and grace. In the law, you climb the tree, you perform to see Jesus. In grace, Jesus comes to us. He is the God who became human to come and live among us. (John 1:14 NLT) He came to seek and save that which was lost. This is huge. He came. He could speak and touch us. He was fully human. This is grace.
Notice the “must” stay at your house. It was an obligation that he placed on himself. It almost seemed like a forced visit. I must stay at your house. What a visit.
Zach speedily descended the tree and received Jesus, joyfully. I would have sulked and become angry, very angry at this point. That’s for sure. After being told that all my merits and performance metrics don’t matter, I would have been one of those who complained saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
A sign that you don’t get grace, even as a Christian, is anger towards those you deem not qualified or spiritual enough – people you consider sinners – when your default mode is set on performance, merit, earn it, work for it, reach for it, just do it. Jesus’ default mode is, “I must stay at your house. I am coming to stay with you regardless of your merits or demerits. I come to you.”
What took place next is something to consider.
Luke 19:8 (NASB)
Zach stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”
This the effect of grace on a sinner.
- Zach obeyed the law – the mosaic Law. He obeyed the law in Exodus 22:1; Leviticus 6:5; Numbers 5:7; 2 Samuel 12:6, effortlessly.
We want people to live right, right? We want our people to be honest citizens, right? You want your husband to stop cheating and be faithful, right? You want your wife to stop nagging, right? Kiddo, you want your dad and mum to stop fighting all the time, right? Hey, pastor, you want your members to be faithful givers, right? In the words of Elyse Fitzpatrick, give them grace.
- Zach becomes a social justice champion and makes good.
Concern for the poor is a fruit of grace. Sing and preach all you want about grace but if your heart is not moved with compassion towards the poor, orphan, widow, prisoner, and the immigrant, that’s all empty rhetoric. A lot of talk in the Church today about social justice is devoid of grace, devoid of the gospel. We demand that oppressor’s payback, that they give up their rights and privileges they got on the backs of the oppressed. Noble overtures, I agree. In this case, Zach did not need any prodding, threats, or scolding to do right. He experienced Jesus’ unconditional love, and then that love changed him from an oppressor to a blesser, instantly. It takes God’s grace to cause a miraculous change in the heart of an oppressor, let alone anyone.
More good news?
In Zach’s house was the man who would eventually climb the tree. Who eventually met all of God’s demands – whose perfect performance was accepted. Jesus was that man. He climbed the tree for us. He died on the tree so that salvation could come to our homes and lives. Now God sees us as perfect. We are no longer short like Zach of his glory (pun intended)
Hey you, climb down that tree. Relax, breathe easy.
That’s what grace looks like