Our pastor preached on Zacchaeus - the vertically challenged tax collector who climbed a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. The service turned briefly sing-along when he sang the opening phrase of the old Sunday school tune. To his surprise we all chimed in, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he…” although many petered out after the first line, quite a number sang the whole song with gusto.
“Isn’t it interesting,” said Pastor Sid, “that we always shake our finger when we say the line: ‘Zacchaeus, you come down from there, for I’m going to your house today’? As if Jesus was a parent scolding a naughty child. But I don’t think He said it that way at all.”
I wholeheartedly agreed with this thought. Zacchaeus was willing to make a spectacle of himself. This wealthy man ran down the street and climbed a tree because he desperately needed to see Jesus. I can’t imagine Jesus would scold and embarrass him further. I think He surprised Zack though when He looked up into that very tree and with incredible love, spoke his name.
There are two other passages that I think we often misinterpret. The first is Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler, and the second is when Peter denied Him. Many think He looked on them with anger, but I believe in both cases Jesus looked at them with a depth of love we cannot even comprehend. Here’s an excerpt from both stories:
The Rich Young Ruler:
“‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”’
‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’
Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mark 10:17-22, emphasis mine).
“‘Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.’
Peter replied, ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:59-62, emphasis mine).
Why do we assume Jesus looked angry? I had an encounter with someone very dear to me that gave me some idea. She came to pick something up from our house and I no more than opened the door when she asked, “What are you so mad about?”
“Nothing,” I replied in surprise. “Do I look angry?” I was in fact glad for the chance to see her. Her self-destructive choices had kept her away and I missed her presence in my life. She knows her sin is breaking my heart and that I pray day and night for her. What she interpreted as anger on my face was actually jealous love for her soul.
I think we often misinterpret God the same way. Our guilt and shame color our view of Him as angry and out to get us, when in fact He yearns after us with a love we cannot fathom. He can see what sin is doing to us and the pain we’re bringing on ourselves in our self-worship. The sadness we see is that He must refrain from pulling us in against our will. Jesus does not force, but invites us to accept His love.
So when Jesus looked at the rich young man who walked away, and Peter, who vowed he loved the Lord in the daylight, but denied he even knew Him in the dark - He looked on them with love. As far as we know, the rich young man never came back, but Peter did. And he had the incredible joy of seeing the marvelous completion of God’s plan, after He rose from the dead.
Jesus looks at us the same way. The sacrifice has been made, our sins are forgiven; He calls us to come and accept His love. He longs to make us whole. Do we see Him as angry because we’re not willing to part with our shame, or as the loving Savior He is?
Lint Removed: Misinterpreting His Countenance
Cleaning Process: Accept His Love