The story this week (Luke 19:1-10) is about Zacchaeus, a tax collector. This meant that he collaborated with the enemy, the Romans, and collected the high taxes for them. To these taxes he added something more on top for himself – he ripped off his own people. Zacchaeus was despised, hated, rejected, excluded and ostracised. Jesus came into his village and everyone gathered along the streets to see him. Curious, Zacchaeus wanted to see him as well, but he was short, and no-one would let him through to the front. With his view blocked Zac climbed a tree to get a look. As Jesus wandered under the tree, he looked up and saw Zac hanging from a high branch and called him down.
I imagine that Zac felt all the sense of rejection and hatred welling up within him. Everyone else hated him, why not this rabbi? I imagine that as he climbed down and pushed through the crowd, he wondered what tirade of abuse he was about to receive – he would cop it on the chin. Who cared!
Well, actually Jesus did! There was no tirade, no abuse, but an unexpected and lovely acceptance. Jesus asked Zac if he could come to his home for lunch or afternoon tea… This must have been the biggest surprise, even shock! No-one went to Zac’s home. No-one would be could dead in his presence, let alone go to his house. This Rabbi wanted to visit him at home. Surely this was an honour and he rushed home with this heady, wonderful feeling of being accepted, in some strange and wonderful way.
Over some food, they chatted, and through it, Zac confessed the reality of his life and the way he ripped people off and cheated them. He promised, on the spot, to make restitution and return the money ripped off from others and to repair the relationships. This amounted to a complete reversal in his life, his attitude, and his priorities. In some strange and profound way, Jesus’ gracious actions towards Zac enabled him to see himself in a new way. When treated as the human being he could be, someone who could be loving, kind and humane, he lived into this and became that person. Whilst the people around him treated him as an outcast who would abuse and cheat them, he lived into that way.
What happens when we are treated upwards, treated as we can be rather than as we may be perceived – rightly or wrongly? What happens when we treat others as they can be, as they are deep down, as human beings who are unique, loved and special? When we are treated positively and encouraged to become the best we can be, we respond positively. When we are told we are useless… then we tend to live into that designation. Jesus always treated people upwards into the deeply profound sense of being loved in and through God. He treated people as children of God who loves and believes in us all. That is the challenge for us – to love others into becoming the truest and deepest expression of who they are created to be and to nurture them into living into this truest sense of self – in God!
Rev Geoff Stevenson