Waking Up To The Gifts

There is another way to think about Zacchaeus’ story and that is it is a call to wake up to the gifts that are before us (see part one here).

Jesus helps to restore Zacchaeus to the community of the people of God, yes he humanizes him, and yes, he gives him back his dignity by showing that Zacchaeus is a far more complex and beautiful individual than any single-story can maintain.

But Jesus also accepts the gifts that Zacchaeus has been giving.

Here was a man who was despised, who was of low-social status, and had little honor himself, but leveraged what he had to give towards just causes. He gave to people who could not give back.

Zacchaeus used what gifts he had to participate in the work of the kingdom of God.

So long as we are stuck on a single-story we’ll continually miss the gifts that others are and wish to share.

I like what Patricia Ryan Madson writes in her book called Improve Wisdom:

There is always something there to work with; you just need to see it. It is possible that your glass is already brimming with a delicious brew and that you are actually at a banquet. Everyone you turn, something or someone is helping you. You may have been asleep to all this, however. Waking up can be illuminating. There are gifts everywhere if we learn to see them (Madson 89).

Madson suggests that we see a person or event in three ways. We look:

  1. To see what’s wrong with it. Using this lens the self looms large.
  2. To see it objectively. Using this lens both the self as well as others are meant to disappear.
  3. To see the gift in it. With this lens others loom large.

Where is our tendency?

I think Jesus was looking at the world as a gift, rather than looking for what was wrong with it, and that enables him to hear a different story about Zacchaeus than everyone else. Zacchaeus is a gift to Jesus and the Kingdom of God, and he embraces him and welcomes him into the community with everything he carries, the baggage and the gifts.

Do you see yourself that way? Embraced by God? Welcomed for who you really are. Celebrated for the gifts you bring?

I think Zacchaeus also saw the world as a gift. Against all odds he broke the mold and used what he had to try and make his community a better place, to bring about justice and love, and join in God’s work even though God’s people had turned their backs on him. He took what he had and sought to become a participant in the kingdom of God.

To me this is the story of a small church in Camas Washington, doing works like Laundry Love, participating in WHO, building dialogue with people of other traditions and faiths, welcoming those who often find themselves on the outskirts of faith communities.

What is your role and gift in this work? Where do these two things intersect for you?

4 responses to “Waking Up To The Gifts”

  1. This is really helpful to me, thanks for the post. I listened to the story of Zacchaeus for the first time in years a few weeks ago when I accidentally ended up in church, and the sermon was a generous one, exploring the idea that the usual narrative of a person being accepted in a community: believe (what we tell you to believe), behave (according to our standards), and THEN belong, was reversed by Jesus in this story. That welcoming, acceptance, and openness comes first, and that is what eventually transforms our behaviour and our beliefs. This post takes it a step farther: that it’s not just an act of charity to welcome someone, rather it’s opening our eyes to the innate worth (gift) of that person. I find that a very valuable insight.

    • Hi Amanda,
      Thanks for your comment. Jesus’ reversals is one of the things that constantly challenges me and makes me continue to come back to his teachings for me. They defy oversimplification and I love that.

  2. Brilliant. Who ever thought of little tax collector Zacchaeus as a gift? Of course he is as we all are, but I don’t possess the humility get that from the story in the bible. Thank you.

    • Thanks for reading, Dan. What helped me was some of the reading and study I did that opened me up to some other possibilities to his story.