Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and
said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor,
Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes,
I will give them back four times as much!
I am using the message I heard at church this weekend from Nick Stumbo of Pure Desire Ministries to write this devotion. We know Zacchaeus as a wee little man and we think of him as short. No big deal, right? Wrong. Leviticus 21:18 gives a list of defects that would keep a person out of the temple and dwarfism is on the list. Zac was a real person with real emotions. Nowhere else in the Bible is a person described as being short. So, we might conclude that this detail is important. That Zac’s height was a defect and a reason he might have believed he was not acceptable to God if he was not allowed to worship in the temple with the others.
Zac was a chief tax collector and he was wealthy. He was disliked because he was corrupt. This is what people saw. He was short and this too was something that people could see. What they couldn’t see is the shame he felt.
Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren’t aware of it until they ate the fruit from the tree that God had told them not eat from. Once aware of their nakedness, they were ashamed. They hid from God. Had Zac been hiding from God because of his shame; ashamed of being so short and ashamed of his sinful lifestyle? In spite of any shame he may have felt, he still wanted to see Jesus. So he climbed a tree for a better vantage point. He probably thought he could see Jesus undetected from his spot in the tree. What happened next never occurred to Zac.
Jesus stopped at the tree, looked up and saw Zac. Is it possible that he could tell by the look Jesus gave him that He knew everything about him? He was exposed. So imagine his surprise when he heard Jesus say, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly for I must go to your house today.” Zacchaeus means “pure one” and it’s as if he heard Jesus telling him he was pure. He was accepted. His shortness did not matter, and his lifestyle did not offend Him. And going to his house meant that Jesus wanted to associate Himself with Zac. He wanted to be with him knowing all that he had done.
This led to a radical change in Zac’s life. He declared he would give half of his wealth to the poor and pay those he had cheated four times as much as he had stolen from them. That’s more than was required to make restitution and was quite radical.
I never really thought about Zacchaeus as being a prodigal. He was a Jewish tax collector. He was just a story I heard many times as a child and a fun song about him to sing. After Zac declares his intentions, Jesus tells him that salvation had come to his house because He, Jesus, had come to seek and save that which was lost. Jesus is still in the seeking and saving business! I find it fascinating that over and over Jesus approaches people in different ways, knowing just what they need. The same is true today for us and for the prodigals in our life. Jesus knows everything and we can trust Him. He knows exactly what is needed.
Since shame affects everyone in some measure but at the same time makes us feel like we are the only ones dealing with a particular thing that is causing us this shame, we hide. We are afraid to be seen. We are afraid for anyone to know and we even try to hide from God. This may or may not be something that has attributed to our prodigals turning away from God. Something may have happened…they may have “eaten of some forbidden fruit” or been made to feel like they were unworthy or decided they must not be good enough for God. Whatever their shame is, it is keeping them from seeing Jesus. I pray that like Zac, they will be curious and want to see Jesus even if they only try to sneak a peek. I know Jesus is aware and will meet them at their greatest need if only they will make that first move to see Him, even if it’s only curiosity or they think they can do it without Jesus knowing.