There’s one more story of vulnerability that I want us to learn from. Turn to Luke 19:1-9. At this point in the story of Jesus, he is on the way to Jerusalem where he will face his destiny. But Jesus is not quite there yet. He is passing through the nearby city of Jericho. Crowds continue to follow him, and on the outskirts of the crowd a man is watching. Like the other characters we’ve met, Nicodemus, the centurion and the sick woman, this man is captivated by Jesus. All three of those previous characters brought their vulnerability to Jesus, because in him they identified one who was the answer to their longings.
This man standing in the back of the crowd trying to get a glimpse of Jesus is no different. Deep down he has an emptiness, something is missing. That’s ironic because if you look at his life from the outside, he seems to have it made. He is a tax collector, in fact a chief tax collector, and that was a job in first century Palestine that could make you wealthy, as it did for this man. But it wasn’t like everyone in their school days was studying to be a tax collector in hopes of striking it rich. It wasn’t like there were so many people trying to become tax collectors that competition for the job was tough. No. Tax collectors were despised. Yeah, you could get rich as a tax collector, but it would cost you. It wouldn’t cost you financially, it would cost you relationally. Why?
Because you had to sell you soul to the Roman overlords, and at the same time you had to sell out your fellow Jews. How? The tax collectors were Jews who overtaxed their own countrymen, in cahoots with the Romans. The Romans forcibly received whatever tax they wanted, and the tax collectors profited off any additional inflated amount they charged. They could get away with it because Rome was in charge, and as long as the tax collector kept the Romans paid up and happy, the Romans were quite willing to provide personal protective services for the tax collectors while the tax collectors ripped off their fellow Jews. So as the tax collectors got rich, their friends and family hated them, calling them traitors. You know what this meant? This guy’s insides were rotting out. He probably had few friends and family, and was essentially an outsider to his own family.
He was also short. You might have heard of him: Zacchaeus.
I can see the crowd of Jews saying to him, “Get out of here you wee little man. Go enjoy your nice house and food that you stole from us.” Have you ever felt the emptiness Zacchaeus is feeling? Maybe you’ve tasted success in life, filled with things, but there is some deadness in your insides. You’ve made choices, and they turned out way different than you hoped. Or maybe you knew what you were getting into, and you knew it was wrong, but you did it anyway. It was fun for a time, but now you’re stuck in it, you hate it, you know it was a mistake, and you want out. You want a different life. But you’ve offended so many people in the process, they don’t want you back.
Are you like the traitorous Zacchaeus who doesn’t know how to get back into the family?
Do what Zacchaeus does! What does he do? He runs ahead, noticing a tree with limbs hanging out over the road, seeing that Jesus will be walking right under those branches. He climbs the tree and places himself directly above Jesus’ path.
Talk about being vulnerable. He put himself right out in the wide open, in view of everyone. For the people from Jericho who knew and hated Zacchaeus, he was low-hanging fruit for the picking, easy to make fun, to revile, or yell at: “What are you doing up there, traitor? Can’t see because you’re so short?”
Right then, under the tree, Jesus stops and looks up at Zacchaeus. I wonder if anyone in the crowd hoped Jesus was going to confront Zacchaeus, like they were. I wonder if they thought Jesus should confront the traitor! Instead Jesus shocks them. If they knew Jesus, this probably didn’t surprise them, as Jesus previously invited a tax collector (Matthew) into his group of 12 disciples. Jesus says, “Hey Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus is elated! But the crowd? Not so much, muttering about Jesus hanging out with sinners.
For Zacchaeus, that bit of making himself vulnerable was all it took. Jesus noticed him. Jesus saw his vulnerability. Jesus knew Zacchaeus was empty, an outsider, and Jesus brought Zacchaeus back into the family. Just like that Zacchaeus responds with transformation, embodying a saved live.
Jesus says that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham too. Jesus is saying to the crowd, “Zacchaeus is part of the family!” Jesus then describes one of the many phrases that emphasize his mission: the Son of man came to seek and save what was lost.
“Lost” describes the emptiness that Zacchaeus felt inside. “Lost” describes the emptiness many of us feel inside. “Lost” describes the way we feel like outsiders. When we bring that vulnerability to Jesus, he wants to save us, to bring us back into the family.
Jesus meets us at the lost point of our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, the places where we aren’t enough or not doing it right. There he says, “Reach out to me, return to me, and there you can find what you’re looking for.”
Notice how Zacchaeus responds. He doesn’t say “I choose to believe in you.” He makes a change. He gives half of his possessions to the poor, and he pays back four times the amount of those he has cheated! When Zacchaeus brings his vulnerability to Jesus, he realizes that he has all he needs, and he can part ways with the false promises he hoped would bring him a full life. That’s what salvation in Jesus does. It brings an inward change that leads to outward change.
So one of the best gifts you can give to Jesus is your vulnerability. He is the only place we will find the true satisfaction we long for. As we begin Advent, what will it look like for you to spend time being vulnerable with Jesus? Being vulnerable can be scary, but in his loving kindness he will treat us just like he did the four people we met this week, with grace and mercy and hope. Pour out your heart to him. Be honest with yourself and with him about what is going on in your heart. Go to him in Faith. In the knowledge that he is good. That you are loved by him. That he desires to be known by you. How can you be more vulnerable, more teachable, more open with Jesus?