When Jesus came to the [sycamore tree], he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to the guest of one who is a sinner.” – Luke 19:5-7 (NRSV)
The point of sin, as I understood it growing up in church, was to shame you into right living. Without sins—especially inherent, unavoidable, emotional sins like pride and anger and (Lord have mercy) sexual thoughts—how would we know that God was so much better than us or that Jesus’ death was the reason to feel unworthy of God’s love?
How dare Zacchaeus, sinner that he was, skip right past shame and embrace happiness!
How dare Zacchaeus nab Jesus’ attention from the branches of a tree, instead of waiting in line like everyone else!
How dare he and his friends enjoy a good meal with the holy teacher whose presence was the hottest ticket in town!
There are systems, you see, for being redeemed by God and redeemed in society: religious rituals and social manners that must be honored, special prayers to say and certain pedigrees to respect, penance that must be served spiritually and judgment that must be endured politely before daring to go about the world with garish exuberance.
Look at Zacchaeus, laughing with crumbs in his beard! Look at Jesus, relaxed and joyful at Zacchaeus’ table!
Would that we were as easily delighted as they: that we shouted every hallelujah and roared with every gratitude; that we no longer held shame dutifully to get on God’s good side but embraced healing with pleasure; that we applauded every Zacchaeus who showed us the way.
Perhaps today I will climb a tree, dear Jesus. Even if I don’t make it to the first branch, please set me free from social shame and welcome me into unlimited joy.
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.