May 22, 2024

Zacchaeus, and other people pursued by mercy

As you read your Bible stories, what do you think of Zacchaeus, the tax collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus? Do you pity him — at how disadvantaged he was; hate him for being, well, a hated tax collector? Do you admire his zeal to see Jesus? Do you see a little of yourself in him — in his curiosity, or desperate-man measures, his joyful welcome of Jesus Christ, or in his extravagant repentance? Do you notice the man unseen, undeserving, who is soon catapulted to the centre of the plot?

In Luke 19, Jesus is heading towards Jerusalem, his eyes on his impending suffering and death on a Roman cross. He enters Jericho but he is just passing through. His eyes are onto Jerusalem, that great city that kills the prophets  and pelts to death with stones the very messengers sent to deliver it.  

Now in Jericho, there lived a man called Zacchaeus, a rich chief tax collector, and what the pious in his day would have called a sinner. Zacchaeus heard Jesus is passing his way. And Zacc is a curious person; curious enough to lay aside his pride to satisfy his eyes. He’s got to see Jesus. So he thinks fast on his feet. The Bible in Luke 19:3 says Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was, “but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.  So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.”

The fame of Jesus had spread slowly throughout Judea and surrounding regions. It was about to reach its peak at this point as Jesus prepared to enter Jerusalem one final time. So you could possibly understand why Zacchaeus wanted to see this Jesus. We are not told he was seeking truth like Nicodemus at night or the rich young ruler. We are not told he was pleading for something like blind Bartimaeus a few verses back, the Roman centurion or even the woman with an issue of blood. What we know is Zacc wanted a vantage point to see Jesus. Then mercy! Mercy that reaches us when we don’t even know we are lost. Mercy that knows our name. Mercy that calls out our name from a crowd — us the worst of sinners, us the least deserving, us who are there for wrong motives. “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today,” mercy calls out.

Thank Christ for God’s mercy that calls out those no one would ever have noticed or chosen, mercy that welcomes the tax collector and the sinner and the prodigal and the curious. Mercy that fixes itself in our lives as we go about our business and from that point onward, our life pivots like that of Zacchaeus and we are suddenly aware of the grace and love of God, that heaven had spoken our name, that favour has found us and wants to be a guest in our home. Imagine Zacc beaming with joy and tongues wagging and others grumbling for they would have loved this honour that just came to one who never expected it or deserved it, but God!

Zacchaeus types

Zacchaeus hadn’t bargained for a luncheon with Jesus that morning when he left for the daily grind. He was just swept by euphoria and sought to see Jesus at possibly embarrassing personal cost; strategic, desperate but clearly not dignified. But grace had a date with Zacchaeus . And the tax collector not only sees the Great Teacher but gets seen and sought out by the Great Teacher who wants to be a guest in Zacchaeus’ home. Say what!

Zacchaeus “hurried and came down and received him joyfully.  And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”

If you have been sought after by God, if you have seen mercy chasing you down, relentless love foregoing others in your family or school and choosing you inspite of… then you understand Zacchaeus’ gratitude when his repentance erupts in generosity to the poor and restitution for those he wronged. He is like that coin that didn’t even know it was lost but the woman lit up the house and swept until she found it. I am grateful Christ too found me.

Today we pray that Jesus will seek out our lost spouses and children, parents and siblings, friends, neighbours and foes, that they may know this pearl of great worth. May He meet them on the tree where they are gazing as he passes and their story changes henceforth. Pass us not o gentle saviour. Make yourself a guest in our hearts. Intrude gloriously. Invite yourself into our lives and schedules and plans and may we be forever changed.

Kageni Muse

Kageni Muse is a journalist living in Nairobi. She is married to Muse and together they have three children. She is a passionate advocate for children, families and the church and daydreams of a hammock with a view of the hills.

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