The Necessity of Participation in the Mission


Luke 19:1   He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”


This familiar passage is easy to read in a hurry and in some sense, we may miss the nuances. Zacchaeus was “short in stature” and so he climbed up into a tree to see Jesus. Zacchaeus himself was on a mission, because he wanted to see Jesus. There was something about this man’s ministry that had already caught his attention and was stirring him to the depths of his soul. He had to see Jesus! 

We have always thought about this man being short in height, but the word here is “stature.” If we think about it in this way, Zacchaeus, because he was a tax collector was hated by his neighbors. A beloved short person would probably have been given space at the front of the crowd to see what was happening. In this case, his “stature” may have been his position in society. Because he was considered the very lowest of the low, no one would provide him space at the front of the crowd. He had to climb a tree to try and see this man and it proved to be life changing. 

The verb tenses that follow are really difficult to translate, and you’ll discover different versions trying to explain Zacchaeus’ actions in different ways. Some would suggest that Zacchaeus was already engaging in the activities of giving to the poor and paying people back four times. Possibly, he’s not saying he’s going to change his behavior, but he already has, and it’s been a part of this transformational process in his life. If that’s true, then society continued to reject him, no longer considering him a Jew (a son of Abraham). However, Jesus sees in Zacchaeus’ behavior a participation in the mission of God. He is ministering to the poor and making restitution for his sins and while the religious leaders continue to reject him, Jesus will not. 

Jesus’ presence in the home of Zacchaeus changes everything, not just for the man, but for his entire household. The holiness of Christ enters the home of the one who has been banished by society from the family of God. His activities have tarnished the hopes for everyone associated with him. By Jesus’ presence in the home and affirmation of Zacchaeus’ charitable work restoration occurs for all involved. From having been “short in stature,” Zacchaeus and the entire household are elevated and welcomed back into the family of Abraham. 

The final phrase is often seen as epitomizing of the Gospel of Luke, because it reveals Jesus’ mission and God’s purpose for the world. Jesus came to seek out and to save that which was lost. At the same time, the lost are also seeking. It’s the moment when the seekers meet that the world is transformed. As we become participants with Christ, we cannot help but share his passion for the lost, and therefore seek those who are in need of salvation. 


Just as it was the physical presence of Jesus in Zacchaeus’ home that brought about salvation, so we are to become participants with Christ in his mission. The interesting thing about Zacchaeus is that he had already gotten wind of the good news. He may have already been changing his lifestyle and trying to do good, but still, within society he was an outcast. Jesus’ salvation was restoration as a son of Abraham, and this was done by his presence. That is why we are called to participate with Jesus in his mission. 
When we do not, then this passage in Romans comes into clearer focus: 

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (Romans 10:14-15) 

To participate in the mission means that we have to go to those who have “low stature.” Zacchaeus as a tax collector was lumped in with the widow, toll collector, children and blind beggar. By Jesus’ presence among these individuals they were restored in the image of God and raised up from their low stature. 

If we are to participate in the mission of Christ, then we to take the presence of Christ with us to those who are of low stature. There are some people for whom our presence will signify their salvation. Are you willing to go out on a limb and spend time with those whom the world, or the church would place on a lower rung, to bring the peace of Christ into someone’s life? 

What about the woman who works as a stripper but leaves her children at your church’s daycare? We can walk away from her in disgust, or we can see her as a woman in need of restoration. Our very presence in her home when her child is sick may be transformational. Our friendship that provides a safe haven may be what it takes to overcome her circumstances. 

What about the single mom who can barely keep her head above water? You can’t even get in the front door of her home because it’s so cluttered and she feels hopeless and dejected. Genuinely befriending this mom may mean that you earn the right to be invited in the door with the offer of assistance and a life may be changed. 

What about the man who lets his wife and son come to church but wants nothing to do with God? He likes to work on cars and so you find a reason for yours to need a repair, just so that you can hang out. Maybe he’s always got a beer in his hand and you’re a little uncomfortable, but you don’t give up. You find ways to spend time and hang out and one day, you get that call that he asked Jesus into his life and the whole family and generations to come will be saved. 

What about the man with the foul mouth whose adult daughter comes to your church? He tells the pastor on the way out, “Hell of a sermon today, Pastor.” You learn that he likes to golf so you invite him out to play with a couple other guys from church. He swears all day long, but you just keep playing and not judging. One evening you are invited to his home and there he and his wife give their lives to Christ. He comes to church and lays his cigarettes on the altar because he’s been transformed from the inside out. Even his language changes because he doesn’t want to talk like that in the presence of Jesus. 

What about the immigrant who has arrived without documentation and whose child is desperately ill? Would you be willing to go to the space where they are living and do what you can to help in the moment of need? Maybe you sit around the table and listen to their story, and as a result, discover that they need the help of someone who will not cheat them out of their small resources, but will, with love and compassion help them find a pathway forward. 

What about the person who doesn’t look like you, or talk like you? You’re kind and rather perfunctory with them, but would you ever welcome them into your home? Sometimes presence is the welcome that someone feels in your space. 

There’s a lot of negative talk about evangelism these days, but I think that’s a bunch of deception. Jesus hasn’t given up on the mission, and neither should we. The more we know Christ, the more we have to be engaged with what Christ is doing in this world. Jesus ministered at the margins and if we are to participate in his mission, we have to go to the margins as well. Yes, it is messy, but that’s where the people are seeking help. They they are with Zacchaeus, climbing up into a tree and trying to catch a glimpse because they don’t think that they are worthy to have a front-row seat in the pews at your church. But they sure would be thrilled and ready to respond if you told them that you were coming to their place today. How will they hear, if we do not go? 


Lord, please help me to have the eyes to see the opportunities of participation in your mission. Amen.  


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