- Written by Phil Cope
There is a scene in one of the Narnia movies where Edward is riding a horse and comes to a halt, and as he does so he calls out, ‘Whoa, horsey!” The horse then turns his head to glance up at Edward as if insulted and responds, “My name is Philip.”
You see, Philip is a suitable name for such an elegant creature as the horse because of what it means. It’s a name derived from the Greek:
‘Philos’ and ‘Hippos’
'Philos' is a term denoted for love, the type found in friendships. Eg. Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly love. Philosophy is philos and sophia - ‘the love of wisdom’.
‘Hippos’ means horse.
So, quite literally, my name means ‘lover of horses’.
Now if anyone knows me, they’ll know I’m not actually that big of a fan of animals. I am by no means a lover of horses.
So how does this tie in with the story of Zacchaeus?
My name doesn’t ‘define’ me, but in the Jewish culture, names have meaning. And the name they give to their offspring is often a prayer and a hope for them to live up to.
‘Zacchaeus’ means ‘the righteous one’, but if you’re familiar with this story then you’ll know that he was anything but. He was “the chief tax collector”. He was traitor to the people. A man obsessed with wealth and status. If Australia had control of NZ, he was working for them. A local working for ‘the dark side’.
The life he lived would not have been a social one. His fellow countrymen did not like spending time with them - anytime they did would mean ‘tax time’. You see, the tax collectors didn’t really have a set wage. They would simply add a bit to whatever tax was required from each person and collect that as their wages. $10 Tax? Make it $12. $100 tax? Oh, ‘my calculations show $150 is owed…'
Despite being a wildy hated man who lived a lonely life of wealth and luxury, it seems Zacchaeus was a curious man. He’d heard rumors of this man named ‘Jesus’, the one whose name means 'God saves'. He had even perhaps heard that this ‘Jesus’ was a friend of Tax Collectors and Sinners!
Hearing that Jesus was going to pass through town, he wanted to see this man for himself! But how? He is noted to be rather short, so he couldn’t see over the crowds. And if he entered the crowds, someone would likely sieze the opportunity to kill him and escape consequences. He was that disliked!
So, instead, he ran ahead and climbed a tree on the outskirts of town. This was an incredibly shameful act! I want you to imagine a business man, super excited because Katy Perry, or the Queen, or some other popular spokesperson has come to town. He runs down the street, his tie flying over his shoulder, he jumps on top of a skip bin to climb onto the shop awning, where if he lies down just right, he’ll catch a glimpse, but won’t be seen by the crowd. It’s a funny picture, but I imagine it would’ve been just like this. He thinks he’s being clever, everyone’s facing Jesus, no one will see him up in the tree!
So Jesus continued through the town, probably shaking people’s hands, saying hello and pressing on towards Jerusalem where he and his disciples were headed, at least until he finally passes through the other side of town and stops.
At this point, Zacchaeus' heart races. "What’s happening? Is he going to see me and point me out to the crowd? I’ll have no escape up here! They’ll kill me!”
Jesus looks up and says, “Zacchaeus! Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your house today!”
At this point I imagine the crowd are like, ’He said what now….?!’ Zacchaeus probably had the same reaction initially! But Luke tells us that he “quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy!”
The crowd is infuriated!! How dare he choose this despicable man over them! Jesus could have chosen any one of them who observed the law, who was righteous, but instead, he chose the one guy who was making all the wrong choices!
Zacchaeus, possibly shocked and surprised at this act of grace and love, then makes a commitment. He promises to give half of his great wealth to the poor. And not only this, but he promises to give back four times the amount he stole!
The love of Christ, shown through an invitation to dine with Zacchaeus, is enough to change Zacchaeus’s life forever.
No one said to Zacchaeus, ‘You are doing the wrong thing and Jesus loves you anyway!’ Zacchaeus saw this and responded accordingly! He knew where he was going wrong and saw to fix his mistakes and help the community he was in.
His parent’s prayer held within his name was answered! He was becoming that righteous man they hoped he would be.
Jesus’ response to this act of Zacchaeus was then to say, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Zacchaeus was lost but became found.
Zacchaeus was a sinner who found redemption through Christ.
Zacchaeus was a jew who became a true son of Abraham.
Zacchaeus was saved by the man who saves, Jesus.
Jesus sought out Zacchaeus when no one else thought he was worth anything. Jesus offered him a relationship with Him, and Zacchaeus' life was changed forever.
You see, regardless of what our name means or what defines us, he calls us friend. Jesus calls us friend!
Where do you see yourself in this story?
- Are we like Zacchaeus, knowing we’ve made wrong choices, hoping to hide from Christ, hiding in a tree, hoping he’ll just pass by?
- Are we like the crowd, pushing out those who we dislike, scrambling for Jesus’ attention at the expense of those who truly need him?
- Are we like Jesus, looking out for those who are hiding, seeking the lost, the lonely, the hurt and rejected?
Come up with a name. Pray for them. Look out for them. It’s a cliché, but clichés are often that way because they’ve stood the test of time – WWJD?