Guilty By Association

Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the savior passed that way he looked up in the tree; and he said, “Zacchaeus, you come down! I’m going to your house today. I’m going to your house today.”

If you grew up in church, that song is oh so familiar to you. If you didn’t, well you might get a kick out of this Zacchaeus Veggietales – YouTube.


I’m reading the book One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian, and he does a great job of re-telling the story of Zacchaeus and Jesus, bringing to light the grace given to Zacchaeus in that encounter. Zacchaeus was a rich, ruthless tax collector. Tax collectors in ancient history, worked for Rome. They were allowed to collect by any means, including extortion and imprisonment, as long as they paid Rome what Rome was due. Tax collectors became rich by collecting much more than the required taxes. They collected extra from poor and rich alike and spent the money on lavish lifestyles. They were hated, especially by the Jewish people whose homes and land had been invaded by Rome.

Zacchaeus was a short little guy. Because he was short, he had to climb up a tree to be able to see all the commotion caused by Jesus and the crowd following him. Maybe it was curiosity. Maybe it was hopefulness. Whatever it was that drew him to climb up there to get a look, it caught the attention of Jesus. To everyone’s surprise Jesus spoke to him and invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner. Scandalous!

What’s so incredible about this story, is that Jesus wasn’t afraid to be guilty by association. He wasn’t concerned about his reputation, or what people would think of him hanging out with a tax collector. He saw a man. He saw his need. He reached out and said, “I want to spend some time with you.” At some point after that encounter, Zacchaeus decided to pay back everyone he stole from. He promised to make it right, to give back even more than he collected.

Tchividjian points out that the act of Jesus’ grace preceded Zacchaeus’ life transformation. Jesus did not say, “Hey you tax collector! Yeah you! You’re a thief and a liar and you oppress the poor and you get rich by doing dishonest things. Repent right now and I’ll come to your house for dinner!” No! He reached out. He embraced. He loved and lavished grace and the change – the transformation in Zacchaeus – followed naturally.

“The biggest lie Satan wants us to believe is that grace is dangerous and needs to be kept in check,” Tchividjian writes. And I say yes!  A resounding yes! Grace is scandalous but it is not dangerous.

Why are we so stingy with grace?

Because we are too busy dealing with our fear of condoning sin. We are so afraid of being guilty by association that we ostracize and shun and stay away from those sinful people. We desperately want to believe that our effort to be good earns us some sort of brownie points in the great big world of the Christian life. Nothing could be further from the truth people! The beautiful gospel of Jesus Christ is that he pursues us all, especially those whose lives are marked by failure and pain.

What would happen if we all did the same? What would happen if we loved and accepted and enjoyed one another and left the rough edges for the Holy Spirit to work out? Can we relinquish control over our own reputation enough to be seen with someone others might not approve of? Can we accept that everyone is deserving of the love of Christ and we don’t get to decide who is good enough and who is not?

Can we just get over ourselves? Get over our entitlement. Get over our addiction to control. Yes, isn’t that right? Our need to believe that our works earn us grace is really an addiction to controlling outcomes. We want to believe that we somehow played a part in the gracious gift of God’s love. The opposite is true. Grace inspires good works. You do not inspire good works. Get it?

I am more aware than ever of my need for the grace of Jesus. The more I have failed, the more I have been forced to give up control. Or perhaps, the more I realize I never had control in the first place. I am working on living a grace-full life. That means different things at different times. Today it means that I’m not going to throw stones at others who fail. I’m going to think twice before I allow my concern of being guilty by association, to keep me from enjoying people for who they are, not what they do.

What does living a grace-full life mean to you? How can you practice it this week? If you have something to share, please do so in the comments.

Tell me what you think

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