Do you know what makes you special? Think about your life, think about the distinctive talents and gifts that you possess, think about your particular experiences in life and all that makes you distinctive – do you feel special? God created each one of us unique and beautiful, He created us in His image, He created each of us as beautiful as a rose.
Yet life has a way of highlighting not the beauty we possess, not our unique blessings, not the image of God in whom we were created, but life has a way of focusing on our shortcoming, on our mistakes and poor choices, on our bad habits and questionable attitudes, on our sins and our ugliness. Too many people emphasize the negative they see and then pull us down, noting our failures and problems. We are often stymied and hindered from fulfilling all that God desires for us, of reaching our divine potential.
In place of a beautiful rose, society has a way of pulling off our pedals, one by one. And surely at times, we listen and eventually believe these negative voices. Sometimes, we ourselves pull off our own pedals through our mistakes and sins. As we lose the beauty of our divine image, we lose hope, lose a belief that change and renewal is possible. We even accept our brokenness and ugliness as normal. We identify with the damaged image through which society views us. We are no longer a beautiful rose, but a broken flower, and thus, we are cast into the trash can.
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Jesus Christ, however, never sees us the way the world sees us. He knows in whose image we were created. He understands the immense potential we possess. No matter how many pedals have been pulled off our flower, no matter how “ugly” we have become, He isn’t repulsed by our unattractiveness because He sees something else in us. He sees deep within us goodness and beauty, no matter how much we’ve covered up these virtues.
This is why in today’s Gospel story about Zacchaeus we hear Jesus say, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Think about this. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Jesus is not interested in condemning anyone. No one is a lost cause to Him. We can see how he treats people throughout His life. He never gives up on anyone. No matter how broken or disfigured or ugly a person has become, and no matter how much society rejects and condemns them, Christ never sees a person as the world sees them. He looks beyond the darkness and calls forth the beauty hidden deep within. He reminds us of the lost divine identity within every person and calls it out.
Look at Zacchaeus in today’s story. By a worldly perspective he was rich, he lived a comfortable life, and he surely had some influence and even power working with the Romans. And yet, among his own people, they hated and despised him. Jewish society couldn’t stand tax-collectors because they were traitors, working for the Romans. Zacchaeus not only collected taxes for the enemy, but he became rich by stealing from his own people. Jewish society equated tax collectors with murderers and criminals, as terrible sinners, beyond hope and redemption. Actually, tax collectors weren’t even welcome in the temple.
With this backdrop, imagine a huge crowd following Jesus, listening to His words, maybe seeing some miracle, and then with a religious fervor building up in the crowd, all of the sudden everything is interrupted when Jesus sees Zacchaeus sitting in a sycamore tree and calls out to this despised tax-collector. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, and due to the fact that he was so short, he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up into a tree to simply get a glimpse of Christ.
In the end, however, it wasn’t Zacchaeus who saw Jesus, but the Lord who looked into the heart of the tax-collector. Jesus saw something in Zacchaeus the crowd didn’t see. This is why Christ actually invites Himself to go to Zacchaeus’ house. The crowd is stunned. Not only shocked but even angry. Why would Jesus go into the house of a well-known sinner? Why would this rabbi shame Himself by eating with tax-collectors? How dare this religious person spend time with such a despised and despicable figure.
While the crowd was in an uproar, it’s interesting to note that Zacchaeus willingly and joyfully receives Jesus into his home. Yes, he’s shocked that Jesus wants to come to his home, and yet he gladly receives him with an open heart.
This is when Jesus bluntly states to the crowd, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Of course, he knew that Zacchaeus was a lost soul. Of course, he knew all about this tax-collector’s corruption and evil, the way he destroyed lives by stealing from the poor in order to enrich himself. Of course, he knew that people hated and despised this man for his evil. Jesus’ divine mission, however, was “to seek and to save that which was lost.”
This is why He decides to go to Zacchaeus’ house, to meet the tax-collector where he felt comfortable, to connect with him where he was at, and then to lift him up and call him back to his original self. Jesus wanted to call forth the beauty that was hidden deep within him.
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“I see something in you.” That’s what Jesus says not only to Zacchaeus but to each one of us. “I see something good in you. I see beauty in you regardless of whatever mistakes you’ve made in your life. I see goodness in you despite your sins and whatever brokenness remains. I’ve come to seek you out, and to save that which is lost.”
This is the attitude of God and this is the attitude that the followers of God are called to imitate. Can we be people who see the good in others instead of judging them? Can we be people who focus on the beauty instead of the ugliness in others? Just as God brings special people into our own lives who act as His instruments, we also are called to become instruments in God’s hand, building up others, finding the Zacchaeuses of the world and not condemning them, but pointing out the good within them, reminding them of their divine potential, and encouraging and helping them rediscover the plans God has for them.
Can we act like Jesus and be willing to reach into the trash cans of life, where society has cast away too many people, and can we lift them out of the trash can and make them whole once again? Jesus does this for each one of us. Can we also do it for one another? Maybe together with our Lord, we can all help one another rediscover the beauty of His divine image deep with one of us.