Just passing through
"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..." -Luke 19:1-3a (NIV)
By Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr.
Continue with me today on our Lenten journey with Jesus to Jerusalem.
It is no coincidence that he HAD to go to Jerusalem. The earliest prophets knew that city would be where God would ultimately bring salvation to humanity.
Jesus told his disciples of his pending rendezvous with death, an appointment he planned to keep (Luke 13:33). Along with huge crowds, those men followed him as he made his way to Jerusalem, by way of Bethany and Jericho.
As more and more people joined the entourage, events along the way set the stage for what ultimately happened in Jerusalem. Try to place yourself in the whirl of what occurred.
Can you sense the excitement in the air as this prophet went down from the surrounding hills, into Jerusalem, determined to fulfill his ministry? Can you imagine the conversations within the crowd, as people talked about all his miracles and questioned his ability to restore sight to the blind? Can you feel the push of people striving to get closer to Jesus, in order to touch him, to hear him speak?
That must have been quite a sight, made even more incredible by each of Jesus' encounters along that road.
He sought to see
His name was Zacchaeus. We are told that he was a tax collector, a job that ranked him with cutthroats and robbers. Because he was the assessor of the cruel Roman tax, he was viewed as a traitor to his nation and to God.
Worse: Scripture says he was wealthy, too.
The verse reads tersely, like an epitaph. Who could have been more hated than a rich man who did the dirty work of Rome?
But God has a way of turning epitaphs into possibilities.
Was it conscience or mere curiosity that brought Zacchaeus to the curb that day when Jesus passed? Surely stories that would stir anyone's imagination were making the rounds...
Perhaps Zacchaeus' greatest hunger was to be valued as a human being. And no one knew better than Jesus how to make a person feel valued.
The key to this entire encounter with the Lord of Lords is in these words: "He sought to see who Jesus was."
Zacchaeus wanted to know Jesus by sight. Did he envision gain in some way- or, possibly, loss?
No matter; he chose to go and see, perhaps wondering if what he had heard about Jesus was true.
Once there, Zacchaeus encountered only setbacks. It seems ridiculous that a man of his prestige allowed himself to be placed in such a position.
And yet... perhaps in the back of his mind was this thought:
"If you will seek the Lord and search after him with all your heart and with all your soul," surely you will find him. (Deuteronomy 4:29)
He did find Jesus. Up into the high branches of a sycamore tree climbed Zaccheus. As Jesus passed beneath, our Lord looked up, saw him, and said, "Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must stay at your house."
Jesus knew the name of this infamous tax collector. Jesus invited himself to abide in his house. By doing so, he restored the faith of a man cast away by society.
Indeed, Zacchaeus went in search of Jesus, but through Christ, God found him.
The story of Zacchaeus is a story of humanity's search for a God who makes a difference. It is also a story of God's search for us.
There are times when we talk of finding God in Christ. What is infinitely truer is that, through Christ, God finds us.
Ultimately, that searching saves our lives!
Augustine wrote: "When first I knew Thee, Thou didst raise me up that I might see there was something for me to see, though as yet I was not fit to see it."
Only by God first seeking us can the human soul begin its search. In that lies the unique significance of Jesus Christ for human history.
As we "pass this way," our journey often becomes a groping, discontented stroll. When bad things happen in our lives, we can lose our spiritual sight. Yet, wherever we hide ourselves, in whatever dark corner, the LOVE of Christ is there, whispering and prodding us to come out into the light.
It is in the light of love that Christ reaches out his wounded hands to those who search for him, knowing each of us by name, inviting himself into every life.
As he passes by, if we fail to accept him-to seek him, to invite him in-then we fail to live. But if we accept the love he brings, life itself "grows sweeter as the days go by."
Jesus is passing through today, my friends. Don't miss your chance to see him. It can make all the difference in your world and the world.
"Pass me not, oh gentle Savior. Hear my humble cry. While on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by."-Fanny Crosby, 1868