The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10 is one of my favorite stories in the Bible; it’s beautiful.
This was a man no one liked. He was despised by everyone. Like all tax collectors, he was a traitor to his own people (the Jews), collecting taxes for the occupiers (the Romans), skimming off the top to enrich himself. Tax collectors were essentially outcasts from their communities, their families, their religion. This is why it was such a scandal that of all people in the crowd, Jesus picked a tax collector, a traitor, an outcast, a “sinner,” to go spend time with, showing intimacy and friendship by sharing a meal with him, along with other disreputable people of the day. In the eyes of those present, this was the wrong man to choose. And let’s be honest–he was greedy, even a traitor; he was not a good man. But his heart was sick, and Jesus had a remedy. So if we were a religious Jew at that time, would we have liked him? Probably not.
We have to know we are lost before we can be found. Zacchaeus knew he was lost, and responded when he was found (not as a legalistic, defeatist, apathetic, or self-righteous follower, but as a lover). And I think many of us–like this man–approach Jesus from a distance because we’re afraid and ashamed of our darkness. But Jesus comes to us in that, moves past our walls, finds us, and loves us unconditionally (I believe Zacchaeus is a representation of humankind). What made Zacchaeus different was that he knew he needed saving, while others did not.
Over the years I’ve realized that if encountering, receiving, and responding to the unconditional love of God is not our foundation, we become one of four kinds of followers.
Legalistic (or religious): You strive and strive, try and try, burn yourself out trying to meet God’s demands and expectations; you work harder and harder because you can never meet the mark. (These live under the weight of expectation…)
Defeatist: You throw in the towel and give up because you’re never going to be good enough anyway. You give up. Because what’s the point of even trying? Why even bother? (These live under the weight of guilt and shame and insecurity…)
Apathetic: You are lazy about loving God and following him, because you haven’t understood how extravagant his love is. You haven’t encountered and responded to the greatest love one can ever know. You live in cheap grace. (It’s not “God loves you so do whatever you want…” It’s “God loves you so follow him and do what he wants…”)
Self-righteous (or self-sufficient): I am good enough before God by my own doing, my own merit. I am my own god; I am my own authority; I decide what is good and bad, right and wrong for me; I answer to no one; I need nothing and no one apart from myself.
Jesus wants lovers, friends–grateful followers.
We can ask ourselves: Which one am I?
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