Chance Encounters: Trying to See Jesus
Topic: Christ Seeks Us Scripture: Psalm 33–33, Luke 19:1–19:10
Our daughter Larissa lives in Honolulu. I spoke with her after the incoming missile alert that was sent in error. She said during those agonizing forty minutes when everyone thought it was going to happen; she experienced the fear and terror and survival instincts that would naturally kick in. The words that accompanied the text alert - “This is not a drill”- were burned into her mind. She also heard something like a voice in her soul - a voice that said, “Whatever happens, it will be okay.” She had a feeling of peace as a result of that voice. She understood it, not as a guarantee that there was no missile, but that all would ultimately be well, regardless.All of us live by the mercy of God. All of us will be called to give an account of how we’ve lived this precious gift of life. I’m reminded of the 14th century English mystic, Julian of Norwich, who declared, “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” The sustaining love of God surrounds us now and forever.
Today we continue our series on Chance Encounters with Jesus. Our biblical character from Luke gets an annual Sunday named after him, the Sunday of Zacchaeus. One reason for this prominence is the placement of his story within the chronology of the gospel. It comes just before Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. This tells us, Zacchaeus is a brief summary of the whole gospel message. He was a true seeker, who deeply, and desperately, wanted to see Jesus.
His profound desire moved him to shed his pride and dignity, and to run so he could get ahead of Jesus. He scrambled up a tree, another sign of his humility, so he could see over the crowd and get a good glimpse of the Savior. Here we have a man who would stop at nothing in order to reach his goal. We’re reminded of Jeremiah’s words: “You will seek the Lord, and find the Lord when you seek him with all your heart.”
Right away, Zacchaeus challenges us: How deeply do we seek? Is our spiritual life casual, or passionate? Are we prepared to overcome all the obstacles in our way? Not only was he physically short, he was an outcast. Normally, in those days, wealth was regarded as God’s blessing. This kind of wealth was different. It came from collaborating with Rome and taking from his own people. He was hated and ostracized for it. Yet, he would not be deterred from seeing Christ. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” He hungered to see the Lord. Why are we so easily distracted from the goal? His aloneness might have motivated his search. He had plenty of money, true, but he had no connection to a human community. He lacked one of the most basic needs, the love and support of others.
Just a few days ago, Prime Minister Teresa May of Britain established a new cabinet post: the Ministry for Loneliness. Social isolation is becoming recognized as rampant, and a hazard to health and well-being. The new cabinet position will try to connect young and old alike with friends, activities, and groups. One official said, “There are so many university students who lock themselves in their rooms for days because they feel rejected, or they just don’t fit in. It’s only a matter of time before loneliness turns into depression. And that’s where it gets dangerous.” Zacchaeus was isolated. He sought the friendship of Jesus. He didn’t need physical healing, but Jesus knew exactly what he did need - fellowship. “Come on down, Zacchaeus. I’m going to your place today!” Zacchaeus thought he’d gone to heaven. In a way, he HAD gone to heaven, for wherever Jesus is, that’s heaven.
This tells us something crucial. We might intensely seek the Lord, but far more intensely, the Lord is seeking us. In Ephesians, we read, “He has called and chosen us in love from before the foundation of the world.” Somehow Jesus knew his name. Spiritually, Jesus knew him long before he was born. Jesus is the Seeker-in-Chief. Jesus saw him in that tree and called to him. It might have been the first time anybody had ever looked UP to Zacchaeus. He was used to people looking down on him, because of his shortness, and because of his moral failure. They looked down on him. Jesus looked up at him, restoring his worth in the sight of God. Scripture says we‘re all short: “all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.” In Christ, we are forgiven and restored to our worth through God’s love. In Jesus, the friendless Zacchaeus gained the greatest friend of all.
Lastly, we note the impact of this encounter. His grip on money was loosened up. That’s a miracle, especially for someone who only had money, and nothing else. His faith was more than a feeling. It was put into action. He gave away half his possessions, and to those he might have cheated, he repaid quadruple the amount he had taken from them. “Today, salvation has come to this house. He’s part of the community - a son of Abraham. I can tell because of his spontaneous generosity.” Zacchaeus’s encounter with Jesus made all the difference.
“I came,” declared Christ, “to seek and save the lost.” That was his mission. Still is. It’s our mission too.