Response to Jesus: Joy is found in leaving your pride to see a God who saves
He was the worst of sinners. He had taken every extra penny he could get his hands on, charging his own people more than they owed for taxes to turn a profit. His greedy hands revealed a greedy heart, one that was desperate to be filled. He was looked down on by the Romans who employed him, hated by his own people, hated even by himself.
His joy was somewhere at the bottom of cavernous hole that he could never seem to find. He was desperate for someone to reach out and grab him, to save him from himself.
They were the best of the righteous. Their hands always clean of dirt and dirty deeds, they prided themselves on their spotlessness. But their perfect exterior revealed a dirty heart, one they needed desperately to hide and dress up, hoping no one would notice. They taught people to know God but only if they got their act together, if they hid their sin, if they stayed far away from bad things and the people who did them. Their joy was in their own righteousness, fake though it was. They were desperate for people to notice how good they were and praise them.
He, the worst of sinners and they, the holier than thou, found themselves on the same street corner one day. A crowd had gathered and there was talk of a man who made blind people see, who made dead people live, who said things no one had ever said before about God. Desperate, Zacchaeus had to know if this man knew the way to joy. His desperation to see the man who might save him from himself caused him to climb a tree to see over the crowds.
A grown man climbing a tree, they all scoffed. Their unsoiled feet stayed firmly rooted on the ground, turning away from the crowd so as not to appear interested in the man causing all the commotion. They had heard of this man Jesus, who was not impressed with their holy traditions, who said they were incomplete, that he had come to complete them-- they had even heard rumors that he referred to himself as God. How dare he. They were trying their best to be God-like, and this man said that to know God they had to abandon all their pretense and image that had taken years to perfect. No thank you, they were doing just fine pretending that all these rules and rituals led to joy. Their feet would stay firmly on the ground, thank you very much.
Then the unthinkable happened. Jesus reached out to the man in the tree and invited himself into his home. Zacchaeus welcomed him with joy. He, ever the outcast desperately searching, was found. The religious people in the crowd grumbled, muttering to themselves about how a man who claimed to be God could be seen with such a sinner. The religious leaders and people working to earn God’s love turned and walked away from the only real source of righteousness that leads to joy.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost, the chief of sinners, you and me. How will you respond when he turns to you and reaches out? Will you do whatever it takes to see him, gladly invite him in, desperate to be saved? What if he saves your worst enemy, someone you have written off, someone who doesn’t deserve it? Will you cling to your own version of righteousness, trying desperately to get it right on your own broken, feeble strength, comparing yourself to those around you? There is joy in a God who saves, but we can’t rejoice if we are still trying to save ourselves. Let us lose our dignity and climb whatever tree we must to see him, the God who saves even the worst of sinners.