Out of the Crowd

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
— Luke 19:1-10, NIV

Zacchaeus was one of the most hated men in Jericho — chief tax collector and an integral part of the corrupt Roman political system that oppressed the Jews. You could call him "Chief Sinner." Still, Chief Sinner was willing to climb a fig tree in broad daylight — in front of all the people who hated him — just to get a look at Jesus.

I can only imagine how humiliating this spontaneous act of madness would've been, but Zacchaeus was desperate for something he didn't have. He'd probably already tried every trick in the book to make himself clean... but nothing could take away the feelings of guilt and shame for the things he'd done. 

Zacchaeus desired a different kind of life. He needed a way out, and the cool thing was, this man named Jesus offered one. Perhaps Zacchaeus had heard of the Miracle Worker, and maybe, just maybe, laying eyes on the Son of God would ignite a miracle in his own life.

Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a fig tree in order to get some perspective. Before he could even utter a word, Jesus called out to him. "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 

Before Zacchaeus climbed the tree, he couldn't see Jesus because of the crowd. Here's a question worth sitting on for a minute: Are you allowing others to stand in the way of God?

Are there things in front of you — distractions — that are clouding your Kingdom perspective? If so, what are they? Who are they?

This story in Luke begins with Zacchaeus seeking Jesus. But it ends with Jesus revealing that He was pursuing Zacchaeus all along. 

It's Jesus who calls us out of the crowd and into intimate relationship with Him. We all need time away from the crowd — to refresh ourselves with solitude and prayer. Everyone's crowd looks different. It could be the boys on the rugby field or a tight-knit community at church. Whatever the case is in your own life, look to Jesus as your example. He took time away from His disciples and away from the crowd to spend it with the Father, to recharge, and to center on God.

But the crowd can prevent us in other ways. The crowd can pressure us to go along with received wisdom. Following the crowd can mean bowing to popular opinion and also refusing to think that things can be different. The herd mentality often inclines towards the status quo. (...) The crowd can prevent us from seeing a new way God has in store for us. The crowd can make us fearful of rejection. Even without overt threats, such fear can hinder us from change. We may wonder, “What will everyone think if I do or say this?” Even if the crowd is not paying attention, we may fear their rejection. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, so we do nothing. Finally, the crowd may actively oppose our moving closer to God.
— James Martin, SJ, Jesus: A Pilgrimage

Sometimes I feel like Zaccheaus — a chief sinner, trying to get some perspective on Jesus in the midst of a crowd. And every time that happens, Jesus stops and calls me into deeper relationship with Himself. He makes me clean and lifts my burdens so that I may carry on another day. 

He may be calling you out right now, too. How are you going to respond? Why not try Zaccheaus's response — with obedience and a glad heart.