Have you ever felt like a mess?
I know I have; about a year ago there was a serious shake up in my life’s direction. I lost some important people. My life’s direction was seriously altered. I ended up going to school for a career I didn’t want, and working a job I didn’t care about. My life was a mess.
Justin is a college aged guy. He’s going to school to get a degree in business management. All the bills are adding up. Car payments, car insurance, gas, food, and books are accumulating. On top of all this the pressure of student loans is a constant weight on his shoulders. Sometimes he can literally feel the panic building in his chest. Justin is trying really hard to keep his life in order, but the money problems are too much. He can’t deal. His grades start slipping and he can’t seem to focus on anything. Justin’s life is a mess.
Damon has a great job in finance for a company in his city. He has a beautiful family and lives in a great neighborhood. Damon steps out, he has an affair, his world starts to crumble. Damon moves out of his house and his family doesn’t want anything to do with him. He starts drinking to cope and is fired from his job after showing up at work drunk. His apartment walls feel like they are closing in on him, pressing tighter and tighter, every day. Damon’s life is a mess.
Michelle is a small business owner. She left her company after 12 years to pursue her dream of owning a flower shop. Things started out really strong but as the economy started tanking so did her business. She sold everything she owned and dedicated all her time to trying to save her business. These drastic measures alienated her husband and friends; eventually it was clear they had all moved on. Michelle is left stuck with six figures of debt and a failed business. Michelle sits in her empty shop and cries thinking about all that has been lost. Michelle’s life is a mess.
We have all heard stories like these. We may even be able to relate to one of these people and the situation they are in. Life can fall apart around us and we are left in a mess. What do we do? How do we begin to pick up the pieces of a messed up life?
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.”
Let’s talk about tax collectors.
In the American culture we don’t much care for taxes, it’s a dirty word. We don’t like that a piece of our income is taken away and used by the government. I know I’m not a fan of that. In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ time tax collectors were a different ball game. The Jewish people despised tax collectors, and for good reason. In America our taxes go towards American citizens. We can use the roads and schools that taxes provide, we are kept safe by the military our taxes go towards. The Jews taxes? They went to the Romans. The Roman Empire had dominion over the Jewish people. The Romans would hire Jewish people to collect taxes from their fellow countrymen. The Jewish tax collectors were viewed as traitors. These traitors could take anything and everything. The tax collectors could take your home, your land, even your family.
Hear this, The tax collectors were despised by the Jewish people. The tax collectors took everything from them. The tax collectors were traitors.
You can hear the thought of the Jewish people being abused by the tax collectors. “You are supposed to be one of us, but your killing us, you’re taking everything away from us for the Romans, you’re a traitor.”
Zacchaeus was one of these tax collectors. A chief tax collector in fact. It makes special mention that he was wealthy. Zacchaeus had mortgaged his nationality to pursue money. Zacchaeus had betrayed his own people to pursue wealth. Zacchaeus’ life choices had left him despised and hated by his family and neighbors. Zacchaeus’ life was a mess.
What does he do?
Zacchaeus hears that this Jesus character is coming to town. He is a little guy and can’t see over the crowds, so he climbs a tree, desperate to get a look of this Jesus. Zacchaeus is convinced that just getting his eyes on this Jesus will change something, he’s not sure what, but he was willing to try.
“When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.”
Jesus sees Zacchaeus up in that tree and He knows that there’s something up with this little guy. He knows that this short man really wants to see Him. So Jesus calls him down, Jesus says, “I have business with you.”
Does Jesus have business with you?
Zacchaeus hops out of that tree, ecstatic that Jesus want something to do with him. I can picture this little guy trembling with excitement that Jesus wants to stay at his house. His mind is blown that Jesus, the most loved Jew wants to sit with him.
All the people saw this and began to mutter about Jesus, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
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.”
The crowds that are gathered around are not pleased with Jesus. They start to grumble and complain.
“I can’t believe this, Jesus is staying with that guy… he took everything from me, for the Romans”
“Do you see who Jesus is staying with? Zacchaeus! The tax collector! He took my house! I thought Jesus was supposed to be a good Jew.”
“Jesus is going to stay with that rotten little traitor Zacchaeus, this makes me sick. Zacchaeus doesn’t deserve to have Jesus in his house.”
These thoughts aren’t silent. They are voiced and they are heard by both Zacchaeus and Jesus.
Zacchaeus voices his regret. He offers a way to make amends for the way he has treated his own people. Zacchaeus is in a mess, surrounded by a hostile crowd. Zacchaeus looks to the only solution to a mess, Jesus.
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Jesus’ response to this sinner is one of immense beauty. Jesus offers him salvation. Jesus reaffirms him as a “Son of Abraham”, a real Jew.
Picture the joy that fills Zacchaeus. See the tears of joyous disbelief fill his eyes as the words he has longed to hear are uttered by the Messiah. Zacchaeus has found a way out of his mess. Zacchaeus has found Jesus.
Are you in a mess?
If you are this story has been for you. This story about a long dead little man who betrayed his people for wealth is for you. Not just as a reminder that Jesus is the solution to your mess, but as an instruction on how to invite Jesus to fix your mess.
Climb a tree.
In a crowd of curious people, grab some branches, pull yourself up, get a glimpse.
A glimpse of Jesus?
That will fix any mess.