The "Wee Little Man"

The song is embedded in my brain from childhood. “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.” (I apologize for putting that tune back in your head today.) Because I’ve heard this story for many years and think I know it well, I chose to read it slowly this time. I wanted to see what might come to the surface. Here are some things I noticed.


I noticed how the Zacchaeus story (Luke 19:1-10) follows on the heels of the story of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30). For both men, the issue was not about what they possessed but about what possessed them and how they were blind to their affluenza illness. The rich young ruler was not able to let go of his possessions and so he went away sad and unhealed. Zacchaeus, however, took a different path.


I think it is not by accident that the story separating the figuratively blind rich ruler from the figuratively blind tax collector is the story of the literally blind beggar outside of Jericho. The blind man knew his need and was desperate to see Jesus. When he heard that Jesus was passing by he knew this was his one shot so he acted in undignified ways. Ignoring the public rebukes to be quiet he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Can you picture the blind man being held back and hushed as he strains against the cultural current?) Jesus said to the blind beggar, “Receive your sight. Your faith has healed you.” His life was changed. And with this on our minds, we enter Jericho and meet Zacchaeus.

It is obvious to me that God had been preparing Zacchaeus for this moment. I don’t know how He did this. Maybe it was just with the talk around town (the beggar, after all, was also pretty excited to know Jesus was passing by). Maybe Zacchaeus had heard something about Matthew through his Tax Collectors Facebook page. Perhaps he was going through a personal crisis and saw this as a chance to at least glimpse the celebrity he had heard so much about. No matter the details around it, Zacchaeus obviously had been thinking about Jesus and was willing to act in undignified ways in order to see the man he had heard so much about. (Can you picture him trying to climb a tree in a robe? Imagine his foot stepping on his hem so he can’t stand up to reach the next branch or think of the trouble he had maintaining his modesty. This is not a dignified activity!)


It made me stop and ponder. How has God been working in my own life? Where has He been priming me to do the unexpected in my effort to call out to Jesus? Have I been attentive to these things? Has my busyness kept them hidden from me or has my logical mind dismissed them as not being from my Lord?


There are several streams that are coming together in my life right now. I did not start these; they just sort of appeared. I shared one of them last week—how God has been inviting me to follow Jesus’ example to often depart to lonely places for prayer. Have I really heard this as His invitation or has this been swallowed by the “next thing” on my list? And what of the other streams that have appeared? If they truly are from the Lord of All Creation, have I given them the time and attention they deserve?


How about you? Are you traveling at a speed that allows you to notice and pick up what God has laid down in front of you? If not, what is keeping you from slowing down or becoming more observant?


Zacchaeus had noticed what God had laid down and had picked up enough to be motivated for action. He was compelled to do whatever was needed to intersect with Jesus and that is when the unexpected happened. As Zacchaeus tried to push his way onto Jesus’ path, Jesus pushed His way into Zacchaeus’ life! The Wee Little Man had been prepared and did not have to think twice about it. Of course He would host the Teacher for dinner! And as we read the account, that dinner became a defining moment in Zacchaeus’ life.


In a very tangible way, Zacchaeus was healed. He got his sight back and began to joyfully, extravagantly and energetically make right everything that he had made wrong. His heart was changed. His possessions lost their grip. He was free and was beginning to imitate the generous grace of the One who had given him new life. But truth be told, his journey had just begun.  


While our salvation comes at a specific point in time, our conversion to the image of Christ comes over time. It could be said that we experience one little conversion after another, each one slowly reshaping our misshapen soul. Take a moment to think about some of your defining moments, those moments when you made the choice to follow Christ in a new way or with a new freedom. Do you have one or two in mind? By now, you know that those were not the destination; those were only important milestones along the journey.


What about the things God has been laying down in front of you over the last few months or weeks. Do you have one or two in mind? Could it be that He is preparing you for another defining moment, a time when He pushes His way deeper into your life? It may not be as dramatic and public as the one Zacchaeus experienced, but it will be just as powerful for you as you come across another milestone in your journey of faith, a moment of being converted more fully into Christ’s image.


As we prepare for Easter and the greatest celebration of the Christian year, take some time to ask the Lord to open your eyes to what He wants to do in your life and then be open to the possibility of doing something a little out of the ordinary. Because when Jesus passes by, sometimes you gotta ignore the rebuke of the crowd and maybe even climb a tree.


Journeying together,