If you asked me describe him, I would have said, "He is sleazy and slimy." Occasionally I find myself at the same event as this man and I had done everything possible to avoid having to make small talk with him. I don’t want to be anywhere near him.
He cheats and he lies. He has made millions of dollars at the expense of others. He has used people for his gain and then discarded them. He's the man you would envision on the golf course with a big cigar hanging out of his mouth, rings on all fingers, snapping his fingers for service, throwing lots of money around trying to impress people. And often he does impress the impressionable. Other times, he repulses people. Some people are just confused.
I rarely think about this man, however … A young man asked to meet with Keith and me. All we knew is that he was trying to make decisions about his career. He said he was struggling because the industry that employs him requires him to come into contact with people who live lifestyles that demean women and are filled with attitudes of entitlement. He did not mention any names but by using a few buzzwords, Keith and I glanced at one another. We knew that the same wealthy man was causing this young friend to question his walk as a man who wants to honor God while living in relationship with arrogant people who have created idols of worship. Our young friend asked, "How can I stay true to Christian values and beliefs when I am called to have a relationship with people who hold such different ideas of right and wrong?"
And it hit me like a ton of bricks. This wealthy man that I shunned is a modern day Zacchaeus. Jesus came that he might have a relationship with this man. Jesus is pursuing the souls of men who deny Him. And no person is outside God’s grace. Jesus did not run from these relationships. He ran to them. He invited Himself into lives.
During Jesus' life, there were two major highways in Israel. One ran right through Jericho. It was Passover time, which meant tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims were traveling to Jerusalem. Jesus was one of them. The only difference…time was running out for Jesus. He was heading towards the cross.
Many people would have either heard of Jesus' miracles or witnessed them. So a large crowd gathered, wanting to see this man who made such bold statements and held such authority.
On His way into Jericho, Jesus paused to heal a blind beggar on the side of the road. The destitute man’s response was to follow Jesus and praise God. And the crowd praised God for what they witnessed.
Then Jesus entered Jericho. He reached out to a man who was also poor - but poor in a way that eyes could not detect. Same mission - different men - different response from the crowd. Jesus would declare Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost". Jesus is on mission to save souls and He is also determined to transform followers into His image. But in this scenario, the crowd didn't praise God. They muttered, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner."
The Jews thought of Zacchaus as a traitor and a turncoat because he had become wealthy by gouging his fellow Jews. Tax collectors would take more than the tax required by the Roman government and then they would pocket the excess.
This "wee little man" went to extreme measures to catch a glimpse of Jesus. He certainly could not see over the crowd and I am sure none of them were going to let him in front of them. So he climbed a tree.
While people in his community were repulsed by Zaccheus, Jesus was not. Jesus saw beyond wealth and sin. His eyes went beyond fancy clothes and saw a desperate soul, longing for His coming. He saw a man living in poverty – spiritually bankrupt with an emptiness in his soul. Jesus responded with compassion and exhibited kindness.
Here is where I get a stab in my spirit. I have felt absolutely no compassion for the wealthy man that I once labeled "sleazy", I have certainly not tried to see him with an eternal perspective.
Send me to love orphaned children in Guatemala and I'm on my way in the blink of an eye. Ask me to help provide jobs for women in 3rd world countries and my checkbook is open. Ask me to love young women who have been deceived and abused and I'm in 100%. But where is my heart of compassion for those who are putting their hope in things that won't last? I've turned my back on too many people because of my assumptions and judgmental attitude.
It’s easy to show compassion for the poor. And we should! Too many of have so much, while others struggle to put food on the table for their children. It's wrong. But where is our heart for those who are trying to find worth, value and meaning in trivial things that won't last.
Zaccheus responded to Jesus’ call. He obeyed quickly. He repented. And you know why? That's what kindness does. God's kindness leads people toward repentance (Romans 2:4). And then Zacchaues gave away enormous amounts of his wealth.
Jesus made no apologies about hanging out with Zacchaeus. He didn't hand out a list of requirements before going to Zacchaeus home. But His kindness and love transformed Zacchaeus.
My lesson: We are all in the same mess - regardless of our standing in society, regardless of our gender, regardless of our culture, regardless of anything. We are all struggling with sin in our lives. None of us deserve anything. But if we want to be like Jesus, we open our doors to all … regardless! And we are kind!
I look forward to the next opportunity God gives me to be in the same room as the wealthy man in our community. I choose to define him as "a man with great potential." May I become a woman who shares the kindness God has graciously extended to me.