Imagine if your worst weakness was displayed for all the world to see. Wait, let’s make this a little more personal and realistic. Imagine if you sent a private email to one of your friends about your recent struggles with a certain very embarrassing problem. Then your friend sent your email to everyone they knew, posted it on their Facebook page – and yours too – and sent it in as a press release to the New York Times. Well, okay maybe the New York Times is a bit far-fetched.
Do you want to know how this turned up in my life? For a long time, I had some really tragically terrible looking teeth. Sure, it was my own fault I guess. I could have brushed them more frequently. I could have resented braces in my teen years less. I could have gone to see a dentist more often. Whatever. The net result was a mouth full of teeth I was ashamed to show off. All pictures were taken with a tight-lipped half-smile. I was deeply ashamed of this part of me.
How would you feel if your weakness and shame was broadcast to those around you? What if acknowledging your weakness and intentionally unmasking your shame was the only way you could see God?
Shame on a Stick
There was a man named Zacchaeus who had to do exactly what I have just said. Jesus was coming to his town but he could not see Jesus due to being very vertically-challenged. Zacchaeus was a short man! So what did he do? He climbed the nearest tree and waited for the Christ to come.
I know climbing trees might not sound so bad – many of us did it when we were younger. But Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector. He was probably a proud man who was not pleased with being short. He was not a friend of the people because he was a tax collector. No one liked him! So when Zaccheus climbed the tree he was exposing himself to all of the people who hated him and he was admitting his height issues.
There is Zaccheus, probably full of shame, perched on the end of a big stick up in the tree. What does this have to do with Basileia Theos, the kingdom of God?
Back to my teeth. I went to see a great man and a dentist named Mike. The thought of relaxing while lying back in a chair while someone with a very bright light and a mirror to help him see more clearly examined my teeth was absolutely horrifying. This was not how I wanted to spend a morning. But then Mike went to work. There was none of the normal dental condemnation. No “tut-tut, you should do better mate” kind of stuff. He called out the problems to his assistant and then fixed them. Then he showed me my new mouth in a mirror. I was thrilled! While I might not have Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise style gnashers, I can now smile in pictures.
Jesus saw Zacchaeus and called out to him to come down the tree and be welcomed. Jesus was actually going to stay at Zacchaeus’ house!
Immediately all of the people got angry because Zacchaeus had a bad reputation. He was a tax collector. He made money by extortion, threats and government-sponsored robbery. The people were angry because Jesus could have chosen a more worthy dinner table. Maybe they thought He should have chosen a more worthy dinner table.
Then Zacchaeus did a Basileia Theos, kingdom of God, kind of thing. He said “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back for times the amount.” Wow! Zacchaeus took an instant vow of poverty. He gave away half of his stuff on the spot and then invited everyone to come and take the rest of it if they could prove he had cheated them – which he almost certainly had done.
You see, the kingdom of God is incredibly valuable. We honour the kingdom of God when we value it above everything else. Zacchaeus treasured the chance to see and meet Jesus more than he cherished his shame. When the chance came, Zacchaeus gladly traded his wealth and the guilt that came along with his wealth-building methods so he could get Jesus into his home. If God is really going to reign in our lives, if we are really going to live as if the kingdom of God matters, then we must treasure the kingdom of God more than we cherish hiding our shame and weakness in order to present a pretty picture to the people around us.
Revealed and Redeemed
Jesus responded to Zachaeus by saying, “Today, salvation has come to this house…” The kingdom of God comes when weakness and shame and guilt and problems are brought to Jesus for Him to redeem.
Back to my teeth. If I had never gone to see Mike, stretched out in that chair or opened my mouth then my teeth would be in an even worse state now. The only way to change my teeth was to expose them.
The only way to bring change to our lives is to expose our faults and weaknesses for God to change them. This is the way of the kingdom of God where weakness is welcomed and there is redemption for those who will confess and reveal their shame.