Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10
Our Master never ceases to amaze! This story about His interaction with a sinner named Zacchaeus is so much more than the “wee little man” song could possibly capture. This isn’t a story about a short man climbing a tree, but of a worldly man encountering the stunning wonder of God’s kingdom and God’s Messiah over a meal shared in his home.
While so many saw Zacchaeus and could see only “a sinner”, Jesus saw more. He saw a “son of Abraham” who was lost and could be found. He saw who Zacchaeus could become in God’s kingdom, not just who he had become in the kingdom of darkness. This vision of kingdom possibility moved Jesus to invite Himself over to that sinner’s house. He knew that such a move would draw the ire of his opponents, but it was His Father’s will (not theirs) that directed Him.
Many disciples of Jesus struggle with the challenge of what to do about friendships and general social interactions with those who are worldly. On the one hand, we know that we are “called out” (the meaning of the word “church”) and meant to be separate from the world. We understand that we must be on guard against the leavening effect of worldly ideas and values that we can receive from those we are close to.
On the other hand, we also know that, as it was with Zacchaeus, our best chance of having a Kingdom impact on people is to be in relationship with them. Most people are far more willing to open their minds and hearts to the truth when it’s spoken by people whom they trust and have proven their genuine love and concern for them. If we avoid building such relationships, how can we do the great and loving work of making disciples?
The key to remaining unstained by the world while also remaining lovingly involved in worldly people’s lives is to be clear about our purpose. We can learn much from Jesus here because He gladly spent time with the sinful and irreligious for the sake of inviting them into the Kingdom. He knew that spending time with them was a crucial part of accomplishing that goal, and He kept that goal firmly in mind. He never treated people like evangelism “targets”; rather He saw them as precious people who needed the life-giving reality of the Kingdom.
Let us be open and genuine in sharing life with those outside of the church family, for in doing so we can influence and persuade them to see who Jesus really is. As we do, though, let us beware the danger of seeking their approval, acceptance, and respect for our own sakes. When we do seek these things for our own sakes, we can easily compromise in our covenant loyalty to the Master and begin to imitate the ways and values of those who are worldly. If we continue to find our greatest value and affirmation in our Master Jesus and our Father God, we can share life that is truly life with all kinds of people and bring them the greatest blessing of all.
Seeking the lost where they are with you,