Saturday, November 03, 2007

I mean to stay at your house today

No less a figure than O.J.Simpson said, "When we stop making excuses, then we rise to the top."

Zacchaeus had plenty of excuses to not try to get a glimpse of Jesus.

First of all, Zacchaeus was short. The crowd was so tightly packed that he couldn't hope to see Jesus over their shoulders and heads. The children had the benefit of sitting on their fathers' shoulders to get a look at Jesus. But, no one was about to help Zacchaeus.

Secondly, Zacchaeus was a small man spiritually. Though his name means "righteous one", he was far from being a just man. He had accumulated his riches by extorting from the locals more taxes than the empire required. And the taxes he gathered helped ensure that the Roman Empire could exercise its grip on the Jewish people. Zacchaeus must have feared that a sinner such as himself would be brushed aside by the Righteous One, Jesus.

Thirdly, because of his position in the empire, Zacchaeus was small in the eyes of the crowd. They weren't about to help him. Even if Jesus were to acknowledge him, the crowd would certainly denounce him for his crimes against them.

Instead of hanging his head and going home, Zacchaeus knew he'd have to take an extreme measure to get a look at Jesus. He took the risk of climbing the sycamore tree. The crowd would surely ridicule him. He may have fallen and hurt himself, or at the very least, torn his fine tunic. But, it got Jesus' attention.

Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, because it was Jesus' grace that stirred in Zacchaeus' heart compelling him to do whatever it took to overcome his size, his shame and his fear of the crowd.

Faith requires overcoming obstacles and facing challenges to bring our values into reality. For every shameful experience, for every crowd that denounces us, for anything standing in our way, there is a grace compelling us to do whatever it takes to overcome it. Once we brush our excuses aside, we can grasp what Jesus is offering.

Unfortunately, we tend to associate religion with guilt and shame. However, guilt and shame do not help us in our relationship with God. They make us shrink away and hide. They close us off in fear, rather than opening us up in love. They may motivate us to drop harmful habits, but they can't inspire us to do good. Zacchaeus' spontaneous pledge to payback fourfold the money he extorted came not from any shame he felt before the crowd, but because of his joy that Jesus recognized him and desired to stay with him.

Guilt and shame create excuses for us. But grace overcomes our limitations, compelling us to reach out to Jesus for friendship.