Title: Tree Percher’s nemesis – Grace
Scripture: Luke 19:1-10; John 8:1-11;
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
1: I am a human being full of errors and mistakes – it comes as a package, I think. You look at me and what do you see? Most of the pastors carry the weighty, gentle and gracious look about them. Always dressed in full suit and tie, very well groomed and spotless mannerism where they are good candidates for being good examples and being well respected as per what we have learned through the scriptures. Pastors are meant to exemplify Christ in our actions, speeches and in our manners.
But you look at me and what do you see? Half the times, I act like a goof and I am loving it! I have waaaay too much energy that I do not know what to do with (btw, that’s why I work out so severely, so as not to have so much energy that I cannot control) and when it is available, I love spending my energy wrestling one of the brothers at church. I am also clumsy in that when I get nervous, my muscles stiffen up very badly and I sweat profusely.
There was an incident where I was at a fancy event where I needed to be in semi-formal clothing. Everyone gathered there either had experience of modeling or is currently one or is working with them as photographers. It was a very fancy event where elegant and eloquent mannerism was the very basic requirement. I showed up dressed adequately but then there came this girl I had the crush on and I was holding a Champaign glass – bad combination. Clumsy dude whose muscle is stiffening up because he’s nervous and he’s holding a VERY delicate Champaign glass… it was just a matter of time before I spilt it on someone or something. I ended up spilling it all over the cash register. Think about the embarrassment I felt.
I am naturally goofy and clumsy and I love me for them regardless. However, think about how much I must have been criticized for being a goof and clumsy growing up. I grew up always listening to the idea that “good kids” behave well and that only meant being quiet and not act so playful. That idea resounded in the church life as well. While I was a teenager and early twenties, I attended a church and there I had very difficult time simply being accepted – partly because fobs had no place to fit into that crowd and partly because my playfulness seemed to have bothered some people.
One of the leaders of the church always criticized me for my actions – goofy or not (mind you, it was well intended). It might have been my goofy and laughter loving nature that caught that leader’s attention and eventually arrived at the conclusion that this “kid” must be corrected, instructed and guided. So every week or every encounter with that leader involved hearing an “earful” of “corrections”. At one point, I remember thinking that apart from breathing, there isn’t a thing I can do without offending someone.
Some years later, I started attending another church for I really needed to serve to grow. I wasn’t a pastor yet but began serving faithfully on Sundays as part of praise team or as a clean-up crew. That church’s pastor’s name was Sam Kim and there is a reason why he was a successful pastor at that time. One of the first encounters with him involved his account of his observation of me. When he opened his mouth and said “One thing I noticed about you….”, I immediately thought “oh here we go again… how am I going to get passed this criticism!” At that time, that was the only reaction I knew. But as Pastor Sam continued he said “you are like Johnny on the spot for me. For whatever reason or another, when I need you, you seem to be there.”
With those words, I began breathing better. Thinking back, Pastor Sam gave me great advices and that leader before Pastor Sam also gave me great advices as well! But the one who shaped me most influentially was, no doubt, Pastor Sam. He knew the consequence of continued criticisms and he approached “me” in a way that I can first come down from my tree-perch before I can open up to his advices.
We see the same thing in today’s passage. Jesus approaches the most notoriously hated Jew in that region named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a tax collector who raised taxes for the Roman governments. Now typically tax collectors at that time were fairly rich and the reason is this: Collecting taxes was like an auction. They bid against other collectors and the collecting duty went to the one who said will collect the most for the Roman government. Then the tax collectors will start collecting taxes from their fellow Jews. As if that is not bad enough, they will also OVER-charge taxes. That’s how they become rich. Roman government is only interested in collecting whatever these people say they will raise and whatever surplus the tax collectors collected was pure gravy for them. That’s why Zacchaeus was hated. He became rich on the blood of his own people.
To that hated man, Jesus approached and if you read the Gospels with one eye open, you will be able to see that Jesus is VERY confrontational everywhere he goes. In fact, He goes to temples just to pick fights against the Pharisees. He wasn’t afraid to criticize the religious leaders of Jews at that time but what does he do to Zacchaeus? Well, we will get to that but first let’s focus on what would NOT have brought him down from the tree perch.
2: In the first place, one thing we have to note is what’s missing from the Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus. Noticing what’s missing in the picture is hard because it presupposes you knowing the entire picture thoroughly so I do not blame anyone if this has skipped everyone’s attention but take a good look at Jesus’ conversation with Zacchaeus; there is not a mention of criticism of Zacchaeus.
For years, Zacchaeus collected taxes and for years he had cheated his fellow Jews to become rich but knowing plainly well what had been happening, Jesus does not say a single word about it.
One of my professors put it well for us: Magnifying someone’s short comings won’t do it, it only humiliates them. Sending them on a guilt trip won’t do it either; it will only make them self-righteous or neurotic.
Shortly put, making someone feel bad about himself is not an effective way and in fact, most often, the worst way to correct anyone. Judgement will only push them away. It is in our nature to love ourselves above anything else. No matter how we think about it, this is true. We love ourselves that we cannot bear to watch our own pride gets trampled upon. To that self-glorifying nature, judgement of any kind only fortifies the stronghold guarding the mind of the judged.
Everyone here knows the movie called “Forrest Gump” starring Tom Hanks, right? Well, it portrayed mankind quite accurately at least in one aspect: Forrest does not like to be told “you are stupid”. Wherever there is weakness or vulnerability, people do not like to be reminded of them so plainly. It often is something that they like to hid or have it escaped from people’s attention. That’s why judgment from fellow mankind does not bring others down from the tree-perch.
But then what works? Let’s return to Jesus’ example.
3: In John 8:1-11, there is yet another beautiful encounter.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
One thing we have to note is that Jesus did NOT accept this woman’s sin. Jesus clearly said “leave your life of sin” but he saw a woman who needed acceptance and embrace of a community. That is why he started his sentence with “neither do I condemn you”. Of all the people who showed up to stone her, it was only Jesus who had the authority and ability to throw the stone at her and in fact kill her on the spot but instead he chose to forgiven this already judged, humiliated and harassed woman but forgiveness alone will not do it. She needed deliverance. If forgiveness has the power to wash away, deliverance has the power to restore. She was already humiliated but by finding her acceptance in Christ, her dignity was restored.
The tree-perchers like Zacchaeus come down from the tree only as they find their forgiveness, acceptance and joy restored in their life. And these cannot be done apart from true grace and true love found in Jesus Christ alone.
4: I mentioned my experience of trying to be “fixed” by two different approaches. One criticized on every encounter and the other went out of his way to praise what I did right. It wasn’t the praise that transformed my life. It was the acceptance and embrace that my beloved Pastor exhibited (which he learned from his Lord) that changed my life.
As I look at this community called East Faith Church, few thoughts cross my mind. On the one hand, I do not worry since you guys not only grew up together but you guys are fairly comfortable with each other that there is natural acceptance.
On the other, I am grieved significantly since there always is silent sufferers who in her quietness cry because of the hurts from sharp tongued people. I know you guys are not judgmental but I invite you to develop the sensitivity and discipline to reflect in your daily lives whether you have done or said something to hurt anyone and made them insecure about themselves.
Our Lord Jesus Christ said that no disciple is greater than his master. If our Lord Jesus Christ did not use criticism or coercion or dominance to make us behave godly, then we also shall follow his footsteps and learn to accept people as they are and LOVE them so that they can taste the small sample of grace that our Lord Jesus Christ is all about.