One of the nicest things others have done for our family is bring a meal to our door when times are difficult. It was especially helpful when I was in the middle of my first, ugly Rheumatoid Arthritis flare. My family was able to enjoy a meal without the fuss of putting it together. We are equally grateful when we are invited to eat a meal with someone else. The invitation itself comes with the mutual understanding that mealtime with our family isn’t always seamless. We have four children under the age of 10, one of which is disabled. He has a great deal of anxiety at mealtimes and sharing a meal with him does come with a fair share of comprises. Having children of any age or ability can come with challenges but mealtime for us can be anything but relaxing. This may be why we are more than excited when we are extended an invitation.
This same excitement was especially true over two thousand years ago when mealtime was a priority and sharing a meal had great significance. In fact, hospitality should be an active practice in the Christian faith. Luke 14:12-14: “He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” This verse reminds me of the story of Zacchaeus. He was also someone who was rarely invited to a meal but got a big surprise when he was asked, and even more by who extended the invitation.
Zacchaeus’s story began with him cowering in a tree. Can you imagine a grown man hiding in a tree? That’s exactly what Zacchaeus did. He shyly hid away from a crowd that gathered in the streets to see Jesus. Zacchaeus wasn’t someone who was well liked. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. His unpopular profession had him hiding from a crowd that despised him and his shame could have also had him hiding from the Lord. Jesus did arrive and although Zacchaeus may have been able to hide from the crowd, he wasn’t able to hide from Jesus. Jesus saw Zacchaeus and called him down from the tree. Can you imagine the fear and anxiety that overcame Zacchaeus? Was Jesus wanting to make an example out of him? Would the crowd tell the Lord his indiscretions? Zacchaeus must have been astounded by what Jesus did next. Jesus asked to be a guest in Zacchaeus’s home. Now Zacchaeus and the crowd must have been puzzled by the actions of Jesus. Maybe they all stood puzzled and possibly wondering, “Isn’t there someone more righteous for Jesus to dine with?”
“What could Jesus want with a cowardly tax collector?”
In that time, it was an honor to house such a guest, let alone the son of God! The son of God just called down the most well known sinner in the crowd and asked to come to his home. What does this say about Jesus? What message was he trying to give to the watching crowd?
I think it says many things about him. First, it says that Jesus did not let the disapproval of the crowd sway his decision. He knew what murmurs would come from the crowd once he asked Zacchaeus down from the tree. He knew it may cause a disruption and rumors, but he did it anyway. Jesus had a plan and that plan was for all people, especially those who feel like they have the most to hide.
Second, it proves God can see the hiding sinner. Can you imagine what would drive a grown man, an employee of the government, up into a tree? He had a terrible job. He was the first person people would see when they had to hand their money over in taxes. Can you imagine the reception he received when there was a tax increase? The people of the time worked hard for their money and the taxes were not always fair. Zacchaeus had to collect the money one way or another, with no ability to be sympathetic with the people. Zacchaeus was well aware of his reputation. Who knows, maybe he had been in that tree since the middle of night as assurance he wouldn’t be seen. He was most likely a desperate man for a number of different reasons.
It also shows how Christ lived by example. The above verse is summarized by specifying who should be invited to a meal. The ones we should be extending a meal to are those who are unable to repay the kindness. It’s easy to invite those we know and like to our table but how many meals would we extend to our enemies or a hungry stranger off the street? Jesus knew Zacchaeus was not offered invitations to dine with those who disliked him, yet he was the one person Jesus wanted to share a meal with that day. He didn’t ask us to do something he didn’t do himself. Maybe he knew how much could be learned about someone by sharing a meal. Imagine what could be accomplished by extending an invitation to those who feel like an outcast. It could very well save lives as Christ lived to save all people.
Lastly, it shows that even the sinner who has the most obvious of sins are welcome to dine with the Lord. Jesus did not lay out criteria he required of Zacchaeus before he would dine with him, he just called him from the tree. Jesus reflected these actions on the day of his death. Two sinners were crucified on either side of him. One taunted Jesus and the other asked for forgiveness. Both men were obvious sinners and deserved death. Jesus extended forgiveness to the man who asked. With no strings attached, he said to the repentant man, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
Too many of us feel like Zacchaeus. We are ashamed and hiding. We think there is no way we are worthy to be in the presence of the Lord. Our sin, disappointment, and the opinions others have us scampering and hiding away from life. What we don’t realize is that Jesus sees where we are hiding, and most importantly, he sees what we are hiding. He already knows our deepest of secrets and he knows what we deserve and wants us to let him in. He did make an example of Zacchaeus that day, an example that is still true of the nature of the Lord. God seeks out all people. No one is too righteous or too sinful to be excluded from the love of the Lord.
Jesus is standing under your tree. How will you answer his request to come into your home? Will you open your door or keep trying to hide all what he can already see? If you have already invited Christ in, what are you doing with his words? Who have you invited to your table? Will you be an example to the waiting crowd?