The Shame Tree

Luke 19:1-4
He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.

Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see

This is showing my age and my church-upbringing, but that children’s song about Zacchaeus being a “wee little man” just sticks right inside my head. I can see myself singing it as a little kid. What I didn’t know then and am just now wrapping my head around is precisely how “wee little” Zacc was…how “wee little” I am. Whereas Luke is certainly referring to Zacc’s physical size, it could just as well refer to his heart.

You see, Zacc (as you likely know) was a treacherous traitor. Though he was born a Jew, a child of Abraham, he sold his soul to Rome by becoming a tax collector…and not even a regular tax collector, but a chief tax collector, and one that was wealthy. As a collector he would have military backing to go door to door collecting taxes from his fellow Jews. He had a certain amount Rome required, and whatever extra he charged, he could keep. As the chief, he was the one sending these villains out, skimming off of their skimming. As a wealthy chief, he would have been horrifyingly corrupt in fleecing his own brothers and sisters. He would have been utterly despised and shunned. But at least he was rich, right? If he couldn’t be loved, he could at least be feared, and be comfortable. But it clearly wasn’t working. He began to realize that he was indeed little, very little. His heart had shrunk so that he wouldn’t have to feel his deep pain; his conscience paper thin so the could continue to rob his spiritual family; his love all but gone so he could live just one more day. He was a wee little man.

And so are we. How are you little?

  • Are you petty with others so you feel taller?
  • Do you critique and criticize to keep others beneath you?
  • Do you set your heart on measly worldly treasures to comfort you?
  • Do you seek fleshly satisfaction to numb your greatest fears?

We are all little, and in desperate need of seeing Jesus. Maybe just one glance. Maybe touch the hem of his robe, or steal a little glimpse of he who some refer to as the Messiah. But the only way to do that is to risk being shamed, risk being exposed for the littleness of your soul. Zacc decided to take this risk. He climbed a tree a little ways ahead of Jesus, knowing full well how utterly shameful it was for a grown man to climb a tree. The same is also true for us. For us to risk a glimpse of Jesus means that we have to, at least to some level, admit our littleness. We have to confess to some degree that we are weak, needy, broken, empty, lost, ashamed. And this is exactly where Jesus wants us, where he meets us. He has no interest in meeting the (outwardly) strong, secure, satisfied, healthy people (in reality, those people don’t exist this side of heaven, except in false perceptions). So when Jesus walks by while we are exposed up in our Tree of Shame, He stops, looks up, and calls our name! He declares that he has come to Seek and Save those who are lost (Luke 19:10), revealing that it actually wasn’t Zacc looking for Jesus, but Jesus looking for Zacc (HERE is a great sermon that talks about that by Alistair Begg). He calls us out of our shame and into his presence…and this is what he says:

5 And 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.”

Jesus invites him to “get over himself” and come down. When he then says that he wants to go to Zacc’s house it isn’t for a quick cup of coffee. to “stay” at someone’s house in this culture was to go over for a few days and “abide” with that person. Which is exactly what Zacc needed. He needed the ongoing presence of God himself to heal him and invert his life. And we need it too. We don’t need a magic wand of healing, we need a Person to come in, abide, have his way, clean us up and send us out with His Holy Spirit.

This utterly changed Zacc, which manifest in glorious repentant acts of love. Scripture calls us to 10% giving, Zacc said (because of Jesus’ love) to give 50%. Scripture calls for a thief to return the money + 20%. Zacc said he’ll return the money +300% (a total of 400%). It wasn’t to gain Jesus’ approval, but because he already had it. And this side of the cross we now realize that on the cross Jesus was counted among the thieves so that our thievery could be paid for while being given Jesus’ perfect record of grace-giving.

So, what shame do you have that needs the healing abiding of the Presence of Jesus? Can you ask the Holy Spirit to reveal a particular “littleness” and heal you of the shame that’s plaguing you? And can you hear the words of Jesus “Come down out of your tree of shame. I want to come stay with you!”

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