When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” Luke 19:5
In this story, it says that Jesus is looking for Zacchaeus, and he notices him there, up in the tree. I don’t know about you, but I would never have noticed the guy up there in the tree. I’d have come into town looking for the mayor or someone important, “Who can I talk to that’s important?”
That’s why I’m not Jesus. Jesus notices him. We all have a need to be noticed and to be valued.
A few years ago, after a guest pastor preached at our church in the Pacific Northwest many of us went down to tour his ministry field on Aurora Avenue in Shoreline, Washington. We saw where they gather for worship, then we crossed a covered footbridge to the other side of Aurora Ave to see their community garden. I was walking with the pastor chatting and as we descended the steps on the far side there was a woman sitting on the steps eating what looked like some fruit and some yogurt.
The pastor leaned towards me and said just take a left up the street and I will catch up in a minute. So, we all kept walking, but he turned and knelt beside this woman eating her lunch on the steps and began to talk to her. Down where she was…at her level—eye to eye.
We walked a little further up the street and all of us stopped and waited for the pastor. And waited. And waited. I chided someone standing near,” Doesn’t he know we are busy?” We waited some more.
In time he came walking up and took us to the community garden his church had created over the ground where a Meth house had stood. As he was describing how the garden came into being, Doris (the woman he had been talking to on the steps) came into the garden. He stopped talking to us and went over to talk to Doris. Then he asked if we had a plastic bag from our Subway sandwiches he could have, and he and Doris began to pick tomatoes for her.
He saw Doris.
Ever feel unnoticed, like Doris? Like no matter what you do no one’s paying attention?
I’m sure Zacchaeus felt that way. Every time he took his tax-collecting, price-gouging, money-grubbing, Roman-collaborating self down the street, people would just turn the other way. He was a non-person. But not to Jesus. In this story, Zacchaeus climbs a tree because he’s looking for Jesus, and what he finds is that all along Jesus has been looking for him. That changes him.
How did Jesus know his name?
Having been noticed he begins to notice others and to care about them. Jesus is always looking for us. That heals us of the wounds that have been inflicted by other people because having been noticed and cared for by Jesus we can notice and care for others. Jesus seeks us. And Jesus knows our name. There is something about understanding that Jesus sees and knows our name that changes us.
Jesus was saying, “You are why I have come to this town, Zacchaeus. I didn’t come for recreation. I didn’t come for entertainment. I didn’t come to further my career. I came here for you.”
To us, it looks like Zacchaeus might be an interruption to the busy ministry of the Son of God. But Jesus lived life by a different rhythm. People were never interruptions to him. I love what Henri Nouwen wrote in, Reaching Out,
While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, “You know…my whole life I had been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”
Zacchaeus was the work of Christ. And so are you.