How to embarrass yourself the Christian way - Dwelling Spaces

Monday, 20 November 2017

How to embarrass yourself the Christian way

(c) William Hole - Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Tree

I wonder if you have ever done or been accused of doing something embarrassing? If you are a parent, you will almost certainly have been accused of being embarrassing by your child at some point! Fortunately I am not prone to being easily embarrassed which was helpful earlier this year during the baptisms we held at the Cheltenham Lido.  After I had baptised Charles and Sarah, I got out of the pool and tied my towel around my waist. And then continued with leading the prayers.  I was holding the microphone with one hand and suddenly realised that my towel was unwrapping and rapidly descending, not easy to catch and keep yourself decent with one hand.  Anyway, I survived and most people were gracious enough not to mention it afterwards!

In Luke 19.1-10 Zacchaeus puts himself in an embarrassing position. He has a very responsible, if despised job as the chief tax collector in Jericho.  It would have been a very privileged position because it was a town close to Jerusalem on a major trade route. And so he would have been a very wealthy man.  Wealthy people are used to having places of honour which makes this story interesting.  It might be normal when important people came to town for Zacchaeus to be invited to dine with them.  But as we begin this story, not only is Zacchaeus not invited to meet Jesus, but with such a big crowd gathering to see Jesus, Zacchaeus can't even see over the crowds and capture a glimpse of Jesus because he is too short.  But why does Zacchaeus even want to see Jesus?  He is clearly desperate to see Jesus, because he decides it doesn’t matter what people think, he will awkwardly clamber up a tree to try and get a chance of seeing this man.

Can you imagine it?  Zacchaeus wouldn’t be wearing trousers or shorts, he would’ve been in a flowing robe, so he may even have had to hitch his robes right up into his belt and show everyone his pants as he scrambled from branch to branch.  How ungainly, and how people probably pointed and laughed at him making a fool of himself.  “Ha! Look up there! It’s the tax collector, what on earth does he think he looks like, silly man!”

Perhaps his cheeks are red, and he hopes people will stop noticing him, but no! Suddenly there’s Jesus, and perhaps he sees people pointing and looking, and so he looks up too. But he doesn’t make fun of Zacchaeus.  Far from it.  Jesus is the one who looks on the heart, who knows our motivations. And he sees something in Zacchaeus that others have missed. And he says, probably with a smile: “Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down from there, I want to hang out with you at your house today.” I bet Zacchaeus swung down quickly, embarrassment forgotten, and with a broad smile on his face.  Everyone else though was grumbling: “Jesus has gone to be the guest of a sinner, and a rich one at that, just think about all the money Zacchaeus has cheated us out of, why does someone like Jesus want to eat with him, eat food brought with dirty money. Maybe Jesus isn’t who we thought he was…”

But the effect on Zacchaeus is totally the opposite.  As Jesus sits down at his table, Zacchaeus discovers who he really is.  You see, the name Zacchaeus means righteous one, or pure one. That is his true identity. And he suddenly realises that, and realises that he can change from who he has become.  The encounter with Jesus has opened the door to repentance.  And he says, "Lord I will give away half my money and repay those I have cheated by giving them back four times what I took." And Jesus tells him, truly you are a child of God, and are saved, considered righteous by God.

In Psalm 11 we read that God is righteous and God’s eyes scan the earth as God tests our hearts to see whether we are choosing wickedness or righteousness. To everyone who saw him, Zacchaeus was wicked, but Zacchaeus was willing to humble himself, to embarrass himself, by climbing a tree to find Jesus and to be restored to the man he knew he was born to be.

Jesus was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, where He would also humble Himself and be nailed to a tree and be lifted up for all to mock. Zacchaeus has shown us what it is like to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, and as he did it he found Jesus willing to accept his repentance and to offer him forgiveness. And as a result he rediscovered who he truly was.    
May we today be prepared to die to ourselves, even to look foolish in the eyes of others, because we want to follow our Saviour, and become all that we were made to be.  Amen.

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