Our world paints weakness in a very bad light. It’s seen as something to be exploited, or mocked, or—at best—pitied. But today’s Gospel reading flips that script. I think this passage is a very clear example of the necessity of weakness with Christ.
Zacchaeus was the chief tax-collector in Jericho. He was a Jew who had decided to collaborate with the Roman Empire for his own wealth and power. Many of his fellow Jews saw him as a traitor. Not only that, but tax collectors were widely—and often, correctly—seen as corrupt, willing to abuse their power for personal gain. The average person on the street in Jericho would have been very likely to view Zacchaeus as a treacherous thief.
So, here we have Zacchaeus, up in the tree, looking over the crowds, when Jesus tells him to come down. Jesus even call him by name, so that everyone can hear who he is. Can you imagine being in that situation? “Zacchaeus, come down into this bustling crowd of people. They all know who you are, and they hate you for it.” This is a very vulnerable position, and maybe even a dangerous one. Jesus is calling Zacchaeus into a place of weakness.
But the way Jesus does this is important. He doesn’t bark orders. He doesn’t issue decrees. Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down! For I must stay at your house today.” Jesus is a traveler, a stranger. He doesn’t have money, or power, or connections. He needs hospitality; he needs a place to rest his head. Jesus doesn’t call Zacchaeus into a place of weakness so that he can flex his own muscles and boast in his own power. Jesus offers a hopeful invitation: “I’ve chosen a life of weakness; come and be weak with me.” Zacchaeus accepts.
But once he’s climbed down from the tree, once he’s actually on the ground, he comes to know just how scary weakness can be. He hears the crowd grumbling around him and calling him a sinner. So what does he do? He responds by choosing weakness. Remember, the crowd has legitimate reason to be upset; Zacchaeus was a traitor and a thief, at least in their eyes. So, he repents, and makes amends. He announces that he’s giving half his possessions to the poor, and that with the other half he’ll repay anyone he’s swindles four times what he owes them. And now, only now, in response to the beautiful weakness of repentance, does Jesus finally say, “salvation has come to this house.”
This pattern of inviting us to lower our own defenses, allowing us to see Christ’s own human weakness, and rejoicing in the vulnerability of our repentance is a common way that God relates to us. We’re taught that adopting certain ideas or identities will empower us. We’re told that following certain leaders will make us great. It’s in this world that Jesus turns the tables. He calls us, over and over and over again, to join him and respond to him in weakness. He assures us we have nothing to fear when we’re weak, because God’s power is made perfect in weakness,1 because Jesus is right beside us, sharing in our weakness.
I encourage you, don’t be afraid to be weak, because that’s precisely the place where you’ll meet God.