Zaccheus was a wee little man…

Chances are, if English is your “mother tongue” and your mother was a Christian, you learned a fun little “action song” as a toddler about the Biblical character of Zaccheus. You know the guy. He was a short, rich tax collector. He wanted to see Jesus but couldn’t because of the crowd…and the fact that he was vertically-challenged. So he climbs a tree; Jesus notices him; Jesus tells him to come down and invites Himself over for lunch. Kinda forward on Jesus’ part…but hey…what are you gonna’ do. You’re the Son of God after all! (If you need a refresher on the story, you can read it quickly in Luke 19:1-10 at BibleGateway.com).

The kid’s song was a fun song and the adults enjoyed singing it with the kids almost as much as the kids did…especially when you came to the “…You come down!” phrase in the song. It was great to see the kids wag their fingers with authority and basically mock all the adults around.

What’s also true is that this little song has probably inoculated you to any deeper meaning in this passage. ;c)

I was reading this passage the other day and something jumped out at me for the first time…or rather I should say, something penetrated the fog of this children’s song to speak to my adult heart.

Before I say what it was, I should tell you that I have an unfair advantage. I’m an American living in France and my French still needs a lot of work. So, when I read my Bible, I read it in French 1st (and then in German 2nd because I’m trying, slowly, to resuscitate my academic German at the same time!) This reading of familiar passages in an unfamiliar language has a unique effect. It strips the veneer of familiarity off of a passage you’ve read “too many” times. This removes one of the “intellectual barriers” to having a piece of God’s Word actually reach your heart. So, if you’re learning another language, for whatever reason, I encourage you to get a Bible in that language and read it alongside the Bible of your mother tongue. It will be difficult many times, but there will be some gems that you’ll see as well.

Anyway, back to to our “wee little man”…

In the passage we tend to look at Zaccheus’ physical stature since it’s mentioned in the passage. That’s what makes the song so fun for little kids. So, we put on “man’s glasses” and read the passage and miss some key elements. At least I do. Of course God once told Samuel (who was looking for a king for Israel at the time…to replace a tall king, we might add!) that making judgments and drawing conclusions based on someone’s outward appearance was probably not a great idea. (I Samuel 16:7) So, we have this principle from the Lord of judging someone’s heart instead of their appearance or actions. Therefore, when we do see actions in Scripture, it’s important to put on the “heart glasses”…both for our heart and to see what God is saying in a passage about the motivation of the heart.

What I saw initially was in the French translation, which translates literally into “…he wanted to see who Jesus was…”. Other translations put the emphasis more on his physical inability to see because of his stature, but the fact remains that he was drawn to discover more about Jesus. He had a motivation and a desire to better understand this One who was causing such a stir. I don’t think he was focused on what kind of clothes He wore or the color of His hair, etc. This guy had a serious curiosity! Here was a grown man climbing trees in public to see better! He was acting just like a kid. He was guided by his heart and his “passion” and not by his head or a sense of decorum.

What’s interesting is that this got him his heart’s desire. Jesus recognized him up there and recognized his heart and responded to it. I think that Jesus was probably as relieved to see Zaccheus as Zaccheus was to see Jesus. Here was someone who took pains to come to Jesus and wanted to really know Jesus…not just “get something”. Jesus obviously wanted to hang with this dude! Jesus always rewarded those who went out of their way to find Jesus on His way. It says that Zaccheus knew that Jesus had to be coming by that route. When we know where Jesus is, do we take pains to come to His route and to really look for Him?

Zaccheus received Jesus’ “self-invite” with joy and the time that Jesus spent at Zach’s house…really communing with him…changed his life in very concrete ways. Jesus said that salvation came to Zaccheus’ house that day!

This presents an interesting contrast to another person who came to Jesus in the previous chapter…the “Rich Young Ruler”. This guy was looking for where he could sign up for eternal “fire insurance”. Compare that to Zach, who just wanted Jesus. Jesus said that the Rich Young Ruler (“Rich”), needed to sell everything he had and follow Him to inherit eternal life. Rich asked for rules and he got rules for an answer. Zach asked for Jesus and he got Jesus and salvation at the same time…and Jesus didn’t give him the same rules to follow as Rich.

Rich probably wondered how rich Zach got away with only having to give half his goods to the poor to gain salvation where Jesus had told Rich that he had to give it all! When you live by rules as your guide, you’ll see rules everywhere. When you live with a heart that runs after Jesus, you simply live forever!

Zaccheus may have been a “wee little man”, but he had a whoppin’ big heart and a desperation to see Jesus. God rewarded that and now he can gaze on Him eternally.

The role of the Vinedresser…

In the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that He is the vine and we are the branches. It’s a powerful image that bears much reflection. Bruce Wilkinson’s book gives some great insights on the subject. Indeed it is probably understood only to the degree that it is lived.

Another aid in understanding this metaphor is certainly to spend time in vineyards and learn, first-hand, what this is all about really. Overlooking our town of Soultz in the Alsace region of France, we have a hillside of vineyards. It’s about a 5 minute walk from our house to get into the heart of these vineyards…and your heart will be pumping after the walk up the hill too! I’ve not profited enough from their proximity in the year we’ve lived here so far. For my physical heart’s sake and my heart of heart’s sake, I vow to go there more often.

This morning I went there and I felt that I got another glimpse into this metaphor of John 15.

“I am the vine, you are the branches…” actually doesn’t appear until verse 5. Verse 1 and 2 speak of another player in this drama…The Vinedresser. This is God the Father, and I saw a bit of truth about His role this morning. Let me explain…

In modern vineyards, there are metal cables strung along the row of vines at varying heights for the vine branches to attach themselves to. Otherwise, it’s a pretty unkempt, floppy mess!

The vinedresser is the one who plants these vines in a row and then stretches this straight cable all along the row. What is interesting is how the vine branches are attached to these cables. Take a look at the following two pictures:

The branch holds on tight! The branch had some help here!

I took these pictures this morning of the same vine. The picture on the left is of a branch up high, at the top of the plant. The picture on the right is of a branch down low, at the bottom of the plant. The difference I saw was striking.

  • The branch up high held on to the cable with its own natural strength and abilities
  • The branch down low was attached by a metal clip that the vinedresser had put on
  • The branch up high was thinner
  • The branch down low was thicker
  • The natural grip of the high branch was nicer to look at
  • The super-natural grip of the low branch seemed comparatively ugly…
  • The natural grip for the branch up high could support the weight of the high, thin branch
  • The branch below could not have been held up by such a natural grip and did not even appear to be trying to create one
  • The branch on high had no grapes
  • The branch below had several clusters of grapes that were in the process of ripening

It says in verse 8 that the Father, the Vinedresser, is glorified when we bear much fruit. What I saw was that our Heavenly Father gives us a strong, straight support upon which to lean. In the metaphor, this could be the Word of God and/or the Holy Spirit. They both work in tandem anyway. Perhaps it is the whole package of how we are “supported”. We don’t fall when we are supported. That’s the first truth and it’s an important one.

So often though, we’re a Church that looks good; has high flourishing, green branches, but they are not necessarily the ones that are bearing the fruit. What I saw was that the low, mature branches were bearing the fruit. I also saw that the Father had “supernaturally” provided for those branches that were heavy-leaden with fruit. He attached the branch Himself to the support with an “anchor” sure and firm and stronger than any anchor that the branch could have provided for itself. The branch was focused on bearing fruit, not being up high, not how it looked, not supporting itself.

The low branch glorified the Vinedresser…

Be Glorified Father!

Home Improvement… DIY… Bricolage…

In France they call it “bricolage”. In the UK, it’s DIY (Do It Yourself) and in the States, it’s often “Home Improvement” (though I struggled a bit in finding the exact word we use in “American”). In my language, I call it a “trial!”

The advent of my first blog entry coincides nicely with the end of a frustrating day working on the house. I’m struck by the comparison of fiddling with computers and fiddling with houses. Both can be beset with huge, time-wasting problems that work hard to rob you of your joy. But for some reason, I find myself in the minority of those who would rather have my time wasted and consumed by my computer than my house.

There are probably many a danger signal in that for me, of course…fodder for another day’s meditation…

On my computer, I’ve just created this blog, and it took a fair bit of effort to get it to look and work the way I wanted it. There are still things I’d like to do and problems I’ll encounter, but the blog is largely “done”. Now, I simply need to “move in” and enjoy it.

On my house, we’re trying to take our 1900’s era Alsatian house that was lived in by a widow for the last umpteen years and transform it into something that a family of 5 can actually live in and enjoy. We’re doing it on no budget at all and, at least in my case, little skill and even less experience. At least my wife has an eye for these things!

It’s good for me to get the experience but it’s not pleasant. I’ve enjoyed the new things I’ve learned while getting this blog functioning. I can only hope that I’ll eventually enjoy my new-found home-improvement skills and enjoy a nicer home when all is said and done.

In the meantime, I’ll cozy up to my keyboard and enjoy my new virtual surroundings.