Jesus knew when people were reaching out to him, even if they tried to conceal it. One example is the story of the woman who’d been very ill for many years and reached out for healing. (Mark 5:24-34). She hoped the crowd that was jostling Jesus would hide the fact she’d done a most inappropriate thing by touching the hem of His robe. Only family could do something so intimate but, such was her desperation, she risked it.
Not only did Jesus know what she’d done, He took away her shame as well as her illness; He called her ‘daughter’ when He spoke to her.
There’s also a more comical example in Luke 19:1-10. A man named Zacchaeus wanted just a glimpse of Jesus but, being short, he couldn’t see over the masses. Running ahead, he climbed a sycamore tree, whose low branches and dense foliage made it a popular place for children to play hide and seek. Zac didn’t expect to be seen, but as Jesus passed the tree He looked up, said ‘Tag, you’re ‘it’ to the little man… then invited Himself to dinner!
Zacchaeus, however, was overjoyed. As a tax collector, he didn’t have many friends. Most of the crowd objected to the idea of Jesus dining with someone like him. Think ‘colourful racing identity’ and you have a contemporary idea of what they thought of a chief tax collector back then.
But something miraculous was taking place in Zac’s heart. Knowing the crowd’s thoughts, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, half my goods I give to the poor, and if I’ve defrauded anyone, I’ll make it good four times over.’ He’d been unconditionally welcomed by the Lord Jesus and that drew out a generous response. Jesus declared that ‘today, salvation has come to this house’. Zacchaeus was exactly the sort of lost soul He’d come to redeem.
What a contrast to another rich man that Jesus had met earlier (recorded in Luke 18:18-29). That man, who isn’t named, was reputable in society, being described as a ‘ruler’. He didn’t try to hide his interest in what Jesus had to say, asking, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ The ever perceptive Jesus responded by listing the Commandments that address behaviours. The young man claimed to have kept all these, which may have been true, but Jesus knew this wasn’t the real issue.
‘One thing you still lack,’ He said. ‘Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor. You will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.’ This was a bridge too far for the young man. He had came thinking he was in the box seat to gain spiritual assurance — but he went away dejected instead.
The contrast with Zacchaeus’s joy is stark.
Another contrast between the stories of the two rich men is that Zacchaeus didn’t give up all his wealth and yet salvation came to his house.
Why had the ‘ruler’ been asked to give up all he had? We need to be clear that Jesus didn’t come to add more rules. When He spoke to the young man, Jesus wasn’t giving us an eleventh commandment. He was applying the first commandment – to love the Lord your God with all your heart – to an individual situation. This young man loved his worldly goods rather than God. His response to Jesus’s proposal demonstrated that sad reality.
Zacchaeus’s response was perfectly acceptable because it was not only generous, but it came from his renewed heart. He may not initially have been reaching out to Christ, but when He reached out to him, Zacchaeus was set free by his experience of Christ’s grace.
He didn’t give all he had away, but he surrendered all he had to Jesus. None of us are called to do any less.
Executive Director, Uniting Financial Services