Detours and interruptions
"Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. And he sought to see who Jesus was…." (Luke 19:1-3a, NIV)
By BISHOP ROBERT HAYES JR.
If you want to make God smile, just make plans. The expression reminds us that when we chart a course for our lives — whether for a day, a week, a month, even a lifetime — we tend to forget God also has plans for us.
If you don’t leave room for God’s agenda as you plan your life, the things on your "to do" list likely will come to naught. You can picture God smiling at your forgetfulness about the Creator’s plans for you.
I call the differences in my plans and God’s itinerary "unexpected detours and interruptions."
Probably like many of you, each morning I list the tasks I must accomplish during the day. But so often before I can complete any of those, something takes me off course. I can’t begin to count the times I’ve returned home at day’s end having accomplished nothing of what I set out to do.
Diversions seem to come out of nowhere, postponing and sometimes completely derailing our plans. However, there is an important difference between God’s detours and ours.
God’s alternate routes most often lead to opportunities.
No one knew this better than Jesus. His life was a study in detours and interruptions. Yet each time he was taken off course, that journey became a testimony to God’s presence in everything he did.
Scriptures tell us that Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem" near the end of his life, for he knew his earthly ministry would end in the same city as the ministry of so many prophets. However, on his way to the Holy City, he happened to pass through Jericho.
Note this passage is very clear to declare that Jesus merely "was passing through." He probably had no intention of a prolonged visit in this town that stood between him and his final destination. Scriptures also tell us Jesus had just healed a blind man. His next planned stop waited beyond Jericho.
But suddenly he encountered a tax collector named Zacchaeus.
The job of a tax collector rated Zacchaeus the same as cutthroats and robbers. By assessing the cruel Roman tax, he was viewed as a traitor to his nation and to God. And, as the passage points out, he was wealthy. It reads tersely, like an epitaph. This man who did the dirty work for Rome and also was rich was surely hated by people.
Yet God has a way of turning epitaphs into possibilities!
Was it conscience or curiosity that brought Zacchaeus to the street curb on the day Jesus passed by? Stories that would stir anybody’s imagination were making the rounds about Jesus. Perhaps there was a hunger within Zacchaeus to find out if the stories were true.
Or, knowing Zacchaeus was so despised by others, could it be that his greatest hunger was to be treated as a human being?
There at the curb, Zacchaeus encountered setbacks. The crowd waiting for Jesus was huge. I can only imagine how Zacchaeus, being short in stature, was jostled within that throng. It seems ridiculous that a man of his prestige would allow himself to be in such a position. But these words in the Scripture make it all so very clear: "He sought to see who Jesus was."
I wonder if this was in his mind: "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).
And find Jesus he did.
Up into the high branches of a sycamore tree, Zacchaeus climbed. Passing by, Jesus "looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’"
Indeed some theologians will say that Zacchaeus’ search for life made the difference. I also will add that God’s search for Zacchaeus saved him!
By knowing the name of this unloved tax collector and inviting himself to the house, Jesus restored the faith of a man cast away by society. And before the end of that day Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, "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."
The great theologian Augustine wrote: "When I first knew Thee, Thou didst lift me up, that I might see there was something to be seen, though as yet I was not fit to see it."
Therein lies the unique significance of Jesus Christ for human history, for when we talk about finding God in Christ, the greater truth is that, through Christ, God finds us!
Jesus is passing through this Lenten season on his way to Jerusalem and the cross, reaching out to those who seek him. He knows you by your name, and he invites you into a living, loving relationship with him. You may have made other plans but, please, for Christ’s sake, don’t miss your opportunity to be with him. It can make all the difference in the world.