April 21, 2020 by Bob Whitaker
As a child in Sunday School I remember singing, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he…” I thought that poor little Zacchaeus was too short to see Jesus but Jesus was nice enough to notice him. The facts of that are true enough – Jesus did notice him.
However, in my childhood mind that was the main point. Many years later I began to recognize the multiple layers in this story. Zacchaeus wasn’t just a wee little man overlooked by the crowd. The crowd recognized him as a well-known though not beloved person in the community – “a sinner” who sided with the Roman Empire, collecting taxes and siphoning off large sums of money for himself. He was known as a traitor, a wealthy power-broker.
One element of the story that I overlooked in my childhood was the unprovoked confession and pathway to forgiveness that Zacchaeus experienced. Jesus never rebukes him. He never calls out his sin. He doesn’t preach a sermon on sin. I wonder why? His sin was obvious to everyone but it may also be that the presence of Jesus is enough to produce repentance. Since Zacchaeus was standing in the presence of the sinless Son of God there was apparently no need for condemning words. Jesus’ undeserved kindness, his invitation, his real presence compelled Zacchaeus to confess. In the presence of Jesus he spoke what was obvious to himself, to the crowd and to Jesus. As I reflect on this there are two questions that come to mind.
First, does the presence of Jesus produce this kind of response within us? Have we become so accustomed to Jesus as our friend (a wonderful reality) that his holiness no longer prompts confession? Jesus certainly is the friend of sinners but those who are in the presence of Jesus ought to be the first to confess their sins. This is why public and private confession is so important. I am reminded of a prayer written by John Baillie:
For too long I have tried your patience and too often betrayed your trust; yet you still want me to come to you with a humble heart. O Lord, forgive me for: My failure to be true, even to my own standards; my excuses in the face of temptation; my choosing the worse when I know the better. Lord, forgive me: My failure to apply to myself the standards I demand of others; My blindness to the sufferings of others, and the time it takes me to learn from my own; My apathy toward the wrongs that do not impact me, and my oversensitivity to those that do.
Second, are we imitating Jesus among those we consider to be sinners? Are we filled with words of condemnation or are we filled by the presence of Jesus? According to Paul our lives ought to be the sweet aroma of Christ. So, as we encounter the presence of Jesus let us remember the importance of honest confession. As we encounter others let’s be the sweet aroma of Christ.