About a month or so ago, I heard someone mention the biblical character Zacchaeus and it got me thinking. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho during the time of Christ. We’re told in scripture he was very short. Jesus was in town. He would have been the first century’s version of a celebrity - a social influencer. Everyone was talking about him and everyone wanted to see him and hang out with him. Zac was no different. Because he was a tax collector, the general population despised him. He would be viewed as a sell out to his people, a social pariah. I sometimes wonder if he went up the tree not just for a better view, but a safer one as well. It was not unheard of for a zealot to quietly stab someone like Zacchaeus in a crowd and slip away.
At any rate, he’s in a tree hoping for a chance to see Jesus. Nothing more. Just see the celebrity in town. Remarkably, Jesus stopped under the tree. Zacchaeus has quite a view. His day is made - or he may have thought. But Jesus looks up and then calls him by name. Not only that, but tells his that the party is at his house. The crowd can’t believe it. Was Jesus out of his mind? What could he be thinking? His prophetic vision must be off, because He wouldn’t want to be caught being at a party with him.
Try imagining what the dinner party was like. Zacchaeus is suddenly the center of positive attention. He’s the host of the social event of the year. Everybody wants to be there. The teachers and scribes are going out of their minds, seeing the lowest of the low hanging out with Jesus and his crew, and they have plenty to say about that.
But rather than focus on their indignation, think about what the dinner conversations were among Zac and his friends with the disciples. One was a Zealot. One was a tax collector like them! A tax collector as a disciple? A zealot and a tax collector hanging out together? All of that was unheard of. Jesus not only engaged with Zacchaeus but had called a tax collector to be one of his disciples! They listened with close attention to Levi (a.k.a. Matthew) relate his story about how he’d been about his business when Jesus came up to him and gave him the offer of a lifetime. The bible story focuses on Jesus’ exchange with Zacchaeus and rightly so. But I have to think the interaction with the disciples at the party had an impact as well. How did the conversation go and how did that reframe Zacchaeus’ world view? We know something profound happened at that event because Zacchaeus made the announcement that he was donating half his wealth to the poor and added that if he’d defrauded anyone he’d pay them back with interest.
That’s quite a transformation. From a sinful, greedy, chief tax collector working for the enemy and looking out for number one to an open handed generous man living up to his name. Because his name means “pure” or “innocent.” A prophetic proclamation at birth that became true at his re-birth.
It all started because Jesus knew his name. But I think the disciples at the party played a part. It’s something to ponder. It's no secret that I am a Christ follower. But do my conversations with people stir any hope within them?
I was chatting with a new friend at church Sunday. Our fellowship has started hosting chapel at a local mission once a month in an effort to give people who go through rehab a place to belong once they graduate. We’ve learned when someone hits rock bottom, ends up on the streets, and enters a program to get their life back on track they have no place to go once they’ve recovered. Old friends can drag them back into addiction or destructive patterns, and many churches don’t want “people like that” to sully their pews. It’s sad, but it’s true. I’ve certainly experienced it in the past. As a teen and young woman, I was undesirable and judged harshly in certain congregations. I got fed up and dropped out of church culture for a number of years.
But this day, as we are chatting I look around the room. If you were casually looking at this group, you might jump to the conclusion that this is a bunch of average middle class people getting together. See that group of men standing by the coffee? Recovered alcoholics discussing on how to start a twelve step program here. See that woman talking with a visitor? She was homeless and her life has been restored. See that young man talking to the middle aged woman? Both recovered drug users. The woman sitting in my seat? She was a steaming hot mess. When you ask me my story, I don’t even know where to start. But my life has been transformed. In fits and starts, I am very different from who I started out as.
Healing has come in layers, but it started decades ago when my heart cried out to God and He gave me a vision of what was being closed off (hell) and what was being opened up (eternity - bright, mysterious, and beautiful). I was actually in the back seat of a mainline denomination preacher’s car and knew better than to tell anyone I was having a vision. Most likely he would have pulled over to the side of the road and performed an exorcism. Strange how some Christians believe more in the power of evil to cloud your mind than of a good God to give beauty for ashes but, there you go. It was years before I found a group of people I could tell about the visions and foreknowledge of certain things, and now I’m much bolder.
I may not look like much at first glance, but you would be mistaken to underestimate me. I have “Property of the King” stamped on my forehead and Jesus is rewriting my story with His blood.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.