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.