The Zacchaeus Trap

Over the last few years I have settled into a place of shame.

I compare myself to others.

What am I supposed to be?

What am I expected to be?

I despise myself for not having more success and for not having a greater impact on my community. This leads me to feelings of guilt and shame. And when I allow these thoughts to dominate my emotions, it drives me to my addictions and further from Christ, which creates more guilt and shame. I call this the Zacchaeus trap.

Remember the wee-little man that climbed a tree to see Christ? He had trapped himself inside a brutal system of collecting taxes. He had cheated, robbed, extorted the powerless and who knows what else. And no one liked him. No one shook his hand or bid him “Good morning.” No one even looked him in the eyes. No one called him friend. They walked on the opposite side of the street.

I believe it created self-loathing in Zacchaeus.

He liked the power of extortion. He liked the wealth, but we have to believe he hated it too. Why else would he climb that tree and become even more of a public spectacle?

And the beautiful thing is how Christ saw a better person inside the unlovable person.

The day Christ entered Zacchaeus’ region, he walked down the road and a crowd gathered. It was the same crowd that hated Zacchaeus, and this crowd was now blocking his view of Christ.

And isn’t that the way it goes? What we abuse ends up blocking our view of Christ. What we think of ourselves blocks the view Christ has of us. Guilt and shame block the grace Christ longs to offer us.

What we abuse blocks our view. This is the Zacchaeus trap. It keeps us from seeing things as they could be. And for Zacchaeus the crowd kept him blinded from the One he longed to encounter.

So, he climbed a tree.

One leg up, then another. The next branch, a little higher. There. He could see Christ, and Christ could see him. That made all the difference.

Going out on a limb created an encounter that set him free from being Zacchaeus, the tax collector. Right in front of the crowd that hated him, Christ invited himself to dinner. We can only imagine the sneers from the crowd.

Sure, Zacchaeus could have said to Christ, “I don’t think you know who I am. You must not know what I’ve done to these people. Look, I’m not worthy to have you at my table. Maybe when I get myself together, you can come over. But not now. Wait until I quit this job.”

But he knew that he would never encounter Christ and rise above his self-loathing if he listened to his own guilt and shame.

So, he accepted the invitation.

He had dinner with Christ.

Away from the crowd.

Behind closed doors.

And once removed from the crowd and removed from what they thought of him, he had a breakthrough. He could clearly see his way out of the trap.

He resolved to do two things:

  1. To give
  2. To restore

He gave away half of his wealth to the poor. He restored fourfold what he had cheated from others. He did the opposite of what he’d been doing.

But none of this happens if Zacchaeus doesn’t climb the tree.

Are you willing to do the opposite? Are you willing to rise above guilt and shame?

Willingness is answering the question, “Am I willing to go to meetings, be with people, try something different, seek out a counselor?” We cannot answer yes without humility.

Schedule the appointment, go to the class, make the call. Seek an encounter that will change you.

You can free yourself from the Zacchaeus trap of guilt and shame.

Whatever the tree is—climb it.


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