I don’t think the crowd wanted to keep people away, but by
their lack of awareness, that’s what they did. It was just too difficult for anyone who
wasn’t already in the crowd, or who didn't have inside connections, to get in.
In that moment, the crowd wasn’t necessarily mean. There wasn’t a spirit of
ill-will. There wasn’t an intentional
program of exclusivity. The crowd wasn’t trying to be elitist. Actually, the crowd
was most likely filled with sincere, good-natured people.
The problem is that the crowd just wasn’t focused on people who
weren’t already in the crowd.
In Luke 19, the crowd wouldn’t let Zacchaeus in. Jesus was
there, and the crowd wanted to be there with Jesus, and suddenly Zacchaeus
couldn’t see a way in.
Some people suggest the crowd was antagonistic to Zacchaeus;
that they wanted him excluded. Certainly Christians are guilty of being this
way to certain types of people sometimes. And Zacchaeus was, after all, a tax collector
for the occupying government who got rich off of extortion. Perhaps there were
some people in the crowd who were intent on pushing Zacchaeus away, hurling
insults toward him, instructing him to go back to where he belonged. And later, in Luke's story, after Jesus passes the crowd over, we can read about the judgmental reaction thrown at Jesus and Zacchaeus by many in the crowd.
But before the fireworks, I suspect that most everyone in the crowd simply just
didn’t notice Zacchaeus. I suspect that most people in the crowd were simply just
focused on their own interests. I don’t think it is a bad thing that they were in the crowd. In fact, by being in the crowd, it meant, to some degree, that many
people themselves earnesty wanted to see Jesus and wanted to have their lives touched by God. But a consumeristic focus can keep a crowd from being aware of others outside their circle who also need Jesus.
In a similar way, we can unintentionally make the focus of church inward, closed, and about
ourselves. We, for the most part, are good-hearted. We probably aren’t intentionally trying to keep others out… and I'm sure most of us would love to see more people involved in church… but we sure aren’t making
it easy for others to get in. We close the entry points, block the view, and put up walls to those who aren't already in.
In Zacchaeus’ situation, the crowd never anticipated that he
might sincerely want to get close to Jesus but couldn’t. The crowd never
recognized the moment of surrender and the opportunity for grace for Zacchaeus.
If Zacchaeus was going to get close to
Jesus, he’d have to go around (or over) the structure of the crowd.
If only someone in the crowd that day had noticed Zacchaeus…
Oh wait, someone did.
Thank you, Jesus, for seeing above the crowd.
* Thanks to Pastor Rob Mapstone at The River Church
in Chaska, MN for drawing out this angle of the Zacchaeus story for me.