When you read the Gospels carefully, you notice this extraordinary gift that Jesus had. I’m not talking about physical healing per se, but more of the inner healing through a simple word, a look, a glance, a touch. Consider the celebrated scene with the little runt Zacchaeus. He’s collecting taxes for Rome from his own people, with a kickback from the take. He’s a traitor to the Jewish cause and the Jews are on to him, so they excommunicate him, a terrible penalty at the time. Basically, it meant that Zacchaeus, a lifelong Jew, could never again eat a meal in a Jewish home. He could never go to the synagogue on the Sabbath or to Jerusalem for the high feast.
One day Zacchaeus is in his shop counting his money and he hears the prophet of Nazareth is passing by. He wants to get a look, so he runs down the street. Now remember, this is Zacchaeus, the wee little man. He’s so short he can’t see over the shoulders of the taller men, so he climbs up a sycamore tree. Interesting, isn’t it? He went out on a limb for Jesus.
Jesus looks up and says “Zacchaeus, come down. I want to have supper in your house today.”
Now, when an orthodox Jew, which Jesus was, says “I want to have supper with you,” he’s saying, ‘I want to enter into friendship with you’. Everyone else in that self-righteous, judgmental, Jewish community drove deeper and deeper into isolation, deciding to put up with Zacchaeus just as he was. But Jesus looked at him and believed in what he could become, so He invited Himself to dinner.
And what happens? Zacchaeus jumps down out of the tree. Feelings that were dried up for years in his heart suddenly began to well up, boil up, convert his entire being. He begins to blubber, “Uh, Uh, I’ll give back fourfold everything I’ve stolen. And I’ll give half my goods to the poor.” Jesus’ affirming “Come down” changed the direction of the wee little man’s life.
Is there a Zacchaeus in your life? Somebody that everybody’s given up on? Judged incapable of any further good? Grandaunt, distant cousin, spouse, former spouse, in-law, member of your church, neighbor on your street, colleague at work? Someone of whom you’ve said, “I’ve been wasting my time trying to make you understand anything. You are incorrigible. Thank God, I’m quits and free of you. Don’t you ever dare to darken my door again”? You probably wouldn’t say that because that’s cruel. I don’t like to say cruel things either. They make me feel guilty and I don’t want to feel guilty. So, I play it smooth; I call it cool cordiality and polite indifference. ‘Good morning, you dork.’ In the churches across our land, we allow this garbage to masquerade as the love of Jesus.
Jesus said you are to love one another as I have loved you, a love that will possibly lead to the bloody, anguished gift of yourself; a love that forgives seventy times seven, that keeps no score of wrongdoing. Jesus said this, this love, is the one criterion, the sole norm, the standard of discipleship in the New Israel of God. He said you’re going to be identified as His disciples, not because of your church-going, Bible-toting, or song-singing. No, you’ll be identified as His by one sign only: the deep and delicate respect for one another, the cordial love impregnated with reverence for the sacred dimension of the human personality because of the mysterious substitution of Christ for the Christian.