One of my favorite Sunday school songs is “Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man” (“And a wee little man was he”). I love teaching the actions to kids and watching them light up at the seeming silliness of the story—from pretending to climb the tree to peering down at Jesus as Zacchaeus to looking up at Zacchaeus as Jesus. And, most important, yelling as loud as they can, “Zacchaeus, you come down! For I’m going to your house today. For I’m going to your house today.”
The story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) contains a powerful message. Unfortunately, it’s the Gospel lesson for Oct. 30 and is often replaced by texts for Reformation Sunday.
Lately, bookstores have made me think of Zacchaeus. I love bookstores, with their smell of books and the coffee many serve now. I love the sound of people quietly rustling pages as they browse. One thing I’ve noticed is that the self-help sections in bookstores get bigger every year. So do the sections on history, psychology and hobbies. More and more, books in the religious section are of the “discover who you are” variety. There is a human need and desire to search for who we are.
I see that in Zacchaeus. Despised as a tax collector, he scurries around Jericho as Jesus passes through. “Maybe if I see him—just a glimpse—my life will be better,” Zacchaeus must be thinking. “If I can just have a moment of sight, maybe I will know more about who I am. Oh, the crowd. I’ll climb a tree. I’ll climb as high as it takes to search this Jesus out.”
We spend so much time looking for who we are, searching and searching, climbing upward in every way we can, when Jesus knows us the whole time.
Then, as Zacchaeus holds precariously on to the branch of the sycamore tree, Jesus approaches, stops and looks up. Directly at him. And calls to him by name: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (19:5).
Before they meet, before they talk, Jesus knows Zacchaeus. We spend so much time looking for who we are, searching and searching, climbing upward in every way we can, when Jesus knows us the whole time.
We need not stop searching for who we are. But we must remember that when we seek to better ourselves, find more meaning in life or try to understand more deeply who we are, we start with the knowledge that we are children of God. We are part of the body of Christ, loved and seen just as we are. We search not to make ourselves lovable or “correct” but to learn more about who we are as people already loved so deeply by our Lord. We search to discover that we are known by God.
We search because God wants us to search. God wants us to see ourselves as God sees us—as beautiful, wonderful, beloved children, in every different way and background. God wants us to find the we God sees.