They swooped in, a rush of wings, whirls, and whistles. Within a minute, they were gone. There must have been two dozen. I’ve not seen a single Cedar Waxwing since, but the sight some years ago of black-masked birds with beaks of berries has stayed with me. If I knew where to find these magnificent red-tipped creatures again, I would rush to catch a glimpse of them.
Their captivating visitation came to mind recently while reading of Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke. The name Zacchaeus means “innocent” or “clean”—and yet his life up to this point has been seemingly quite the opposite. While short in stature, his wealth and power are immense, for he is a chief tax collector. As such, he is despised. Zacchaeus not only collects money for the enemy Rome from his from fellow Jews but also profits from them by pocketing his own concocted commissions.
Jesus is passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, just hours before his triumphal entry into the city and final week of his earthly life and ministry. Zacchaeus has heard about this magnificent Jesus, and he is determined to catch a glimpse of him, running as fast as his stunted legs can fly. Luke writes, “He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way” (Luke 19:3-4). Up in the tree, Zacchaeus is afforded a bird’s-eye view of Jesus approaching.
The animosity toward this tax collector is evident: even though he beats the crowds to Jesus, he still has to climb a tree in order to see him. He must have expected to be shoved to the back once the crowds arrived. A blind beggar sitting by the road faces a similar plight, and his story immediately precedes Zacchaeus’s. When he learns that Jesus is passing by, he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Luke tells us that “those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (see Luke 18:38-39).
One is poor, another powerful. Both are shunned by their communities—by people who even try to thwart them from meeting Jesus. What a tragedy!
But Jesus sees them and stops, bringing them healing, salvation, and an invitation to intimacy: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). This is the way of Jesus; “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (verse 10).
And it is the way we are called to follow as followers of Christ: to love our neighbors as ourselves, whatever their place or race, and even to love our enemies. Only with God’s indwelling Spirit can we do this; only by his tender mercies and grace have we been given eyes to see, hearts to love, and wings to fly.