Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Gospel According to Zacchaeus - Grace for Shame (1)

(The following excerpt is taken with permission from "Grace for Shame, The Forgotten Gospel" by John A. Forrester, pp188-)

At the cross Jesus bears shame for the human race. In the journey to the cross Christ is seen taking on himself the shame of others as he sets them free. He is demonstrating what it means to take up the cross daily - to bear daily the shame of others.

Jesus enters Jericho and is passing through. A man is there by the name of Zacchaeus. He is a chief tax collector and is wealthy. He wants to see who Jesus is, but being a short man he cannot because of the crowd. So he ruins ahead and climbs a sycamore-fig tree in order to see Jesus coming down the road.

Zacchaeus is a man ensnared in shame. As a Jewish tax collector, working for the Roman occupying forces, he is a social outcast, a reject. In fact he is a chief tax collector, a title that ironically only makes him less honorable (thus more shameful). His mother had named him Zaccaeus, a name that means "pure," or "righteous", but he has grown up a "sinner." His very name mocks him ("There goes Mr. Clean!")

In meeting Zaccaeus we are meeting a man who has squandered all of the deposit of honor he received at birth. In a world of honor and shame his credit rating is zero. His short physical stature is a metaphor for his diminished personhood He is one to be over-looked. Alongside other men he is inconsequential. Nevertheless, he has worked his way into the position of chief tax collector. If he has no respect, at least he has power. And he has money. In his accumulation of power and wealth he is attempting to make up the deficit in his depleted self. But the inner hunger remains.

Not only is Zaccaeus a shamed person but he is also shameless! He runs ahead. A mature man in a position of authority would not run in that society. It would be undignified and degrading. But Zaccaeus has no respect worth protection. Not only does he run, he also climbs a tree. A ridiculous little man perched like a bird on a branch, but who cares?

Here is the sham;e-healing presence of Jesus. He "overlooks" no one. He could have chuckled at the sight of the little man in the tree, but he shows deep respect. In using Zacchaeus' name, Jesus recognizes his "distinct subjectivity and personhood". Furthermore, Jesus "looked up" to Zaccaeus. This becomes a metaphor of Jesus' humility. He reveals himself to Zacchaeus as needy. Jesus needs a place to stay. Zacchaeus is given the dignity of helping out the famous Jesus in his time of need. He gets bragging rights. All of this, of course, is done very publicly. Just as shame is loss of public place, honor is gain of public place.

John Forrester's book, Grace for Shame: The Forgotten Gospel is essential reading for anyone who has a desire to reach across the barriers presented by newcomers to North America. People who grow up in an honor-shame based culture will generally not feel comfortable in a service where guilt-forgiveness is preached. This book is available through

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