Sometimes there are medical reasons for the heaviness some of us carry in our hearts. For those we need to see a physician. But there are dark days and heavy hearts that can’t be treated by modern-day doctors. And yet an ancient physician tells about a man who must have had many a dark day growing up in Jericho.
Dr. Luke describes him as a tax collector and a bit undersized. The rumor was that Jesus was coming to town and the entire town turned out to see this miracle-working, Pharisee-defying rabbi.
Tax collectors in Jesus’ day were government-sanctioned crooks, thugs in silk suites who arm-twisted merchants into handing over their hard-earned profits. Often, they falsified the tax bills and skimmed off the extra for themselves. One of the heads of the Jericho mafia was Zacchaeus. He was “a chief tax collector,” Luke says—and adds the obvious, “and he was rich.”
The finest clothes lined his closets. He wore ruby and emerald rings on his fingers like golden bands on fat cigars, and he liked to wave them under people’s noses when he talked. He was a prosperous business man. He could buy anything his heart desired—anything, that is, but self-respect and the friendship of others.
I wonder if he had sleepless nights. Did he ever wake up in the morning and see his wife sitting across the table from him and think to himself, “She has no idea how sad I am on the inside.” I wonder, in spite of his stoic demeanor, if the whispers as he walked by in the market place stung and scarred his heart.
I believe he reflected on his life much the way I do and you do. What is wrong with me? All the externals are in place but the internal is wobbling like a spinning top about topple over.
And then he heard that Jesus was coming to town. He, perhaps, has heard how he befriended the lost and lonely, the outcast and castoffs. And no matter how much his externals were in place, Zacchaeus felt like he doesn’t belong. He felt like an outsider in his own home…among his own people. And so he determines to see this Jesus.
As the procession passed by, Zacchaeus, “sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.” Did I mention that Zacchaeus was a little fella? Think Danny Devito. This limitation had never stopped him before from getting what he wanted and it’s not going to stop him this time either. He climbed a tree to get a better view.
Think of this little rich man in his fine clothes shinnying up a tree to see Jesus. That must have been quite a sight. Jesus looked up through the leaves and called him by name and invited himself over for dinner.
Shocking. Scandalous, even. For polite rabbinical company do not associate with common riff raff.
But what is amazing to me is that the way Luke told the story, it was as if Jesus went to Jericho looking specifically for Zacchaeus. Jesus says, “I must stay at your house.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “You are why I have come to this town, Zacchaeus. I didn’t come for recreation. I didn’t come for entertainment. I didn’t come to further my career. I came here for you.”
See, to us it looks like Zacchaeus might be an interruption to the busy ministry of the Son of God. But Jesus lived life by a different rhythm. People were never interruptions to him. I love what Henri Nouwen wrote in, Reaching Out,
While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, “You know…my whole life I had been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”
Zacchaeus was the work of Christ. And so are you.
What chases away a joyless day? What is the cure for a sullied and sorrowful heart that has only been bent on serving self? What confuses the darkness into thinking it has won the day when in fact it has been obliterated like a pencil thin shadow in the noon day sun? He knew that he was the object of affection of the Son of God. He was no interruption.
The text says, So (Zacchaeus) made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.”
He must have felt ten feet tall as Jesus walked with him past the Pharisees to his home. He received him joyfully.
Jesus equals joy.
And then this amazing thing happens when Jesus is received with joy. You begin to want to clean up your messes. You begin to consider making relational reparations.
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.”
From a heart full of joy, Zacchaeus made amends to those whom he had wronged. The people of Jericho couldn’t have ever imagined that this traitor would turn into such a generous soul.
In his book Intimate Moments with the Savior, Ken Gire describes the amazing transformation of this man whose life was once stunted by greed but now flows with generosity.
From behind the barriers he has erected around his heart, a flood of repentant feelings bursts forth. Feelings that had been dammed up for years. Zacchaeus goes out on still another limb. What took a lifetime to accumulate, one sentence of devotion liquidates. And not by a token ten percent. Half to the poor. Fourfold to the defrauded.
Look closely. Witness the miracle—a camel passing through the eye of a needle.
And now it is my turn to welcome Jesus into my heart with joy and see what happens.
On a recent run I felt a clear conviction that I owed two men some money. One man I had not seen for thirty-five years and was not aware that he felt that I owed him anything. The second one is a man I knew five years ago. We were business associates and the relationship ended with acrimony. We both felt wronged by the other. I will spare you the details, but he called me the other day and asked if he could meet me and pick up a couple of old backpacks I had stored for him. I told him that I gave them away to Goodwill years ago. He was hurt by that. Said I had no right to give away what was not mine in the first place.
He’s right of course.
On my run I thought of these two men who feel I owe them something. It was if the Holy Spirit was an old west saw-bones probing for a bullet and finally tapping something hard and unforgiving with his wand.
He said to me, “You will never balance the books in these relationships. But you can position yourself to clean up your conscious by making restitution and when you do, you will remove the foreign object the evil one is using to bring an infection to your soul.” (Well, of course he never actually said all of that. It was a thought that came to my mind.)
So, I bought a couple of money orders this week, stuck them in an envelope and sent them down to Jericho.