There is a parade of attention around the celebrity Jesus as he passes through Jericho. The eyes of the crowd are riveted in the desire to get a glimpse of the great miracle worker and social (not yet media) influencer.
A chief tax collector, short in stature and shrouded in social disdain, is caught up in the movement of the parade and discovers an ingenious way to see while remaining unseen—he climbs up into a sycamore tree. Zacchaeus, in the words of Frederick Buechner, is a “sawed-off little social disaster of a man with a big bank account and a crooked job” who had spent most of his adult life looking up at the disapproving glare of others looking down upon him.
The Parade Detours
As the crowd reaches the place underneath Zacchaeus’ hidden perch, Jesus suddenly stops, looks up and calls out to Zaccaeus by name. The tables are suddenly turned and Zach’s world is rocked by the occasion of being seen in an entirely new way—an inverted reality where eyes of compassion and devoid of judgement are peering up at him from below. As a man vertically challenged and socially abhorred, this is not a vantage point that he has ever previously experienced.
A startling portrait of hospitality ensues, painted by brush strokes of scandalous grace. The ostracized other is gifted with a gesture of hospitable invitation creating a striking scene of inclusive community. The previously determined parade route of “passing through” Jericho is suddenly re-routed with Jesus’ decision to turn Zacchaeus’ disdained place of residence into a celebrated Airbnb. The shocked crowd is scandalized through this illustrated teaching lesson in the art of hospitality.
Emboldened by the gift of having being seen, Zacchaeus comes out of hiding in haste and stands tall before Jesus. Inflamed with gratitude, he lives into the freedom that he has been invited to embrace. Conversely, the imprisoned voices from the halted parade mutter and grumble in disapproval: “he has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
The inversion of hospitality has left them confused as to who is the guest and who is the host. It is Jesus, after all, who has chosen to stop and “look up” in order to play “host” to the vilified other, not the other way around. Jesus embraces a position of great vulnerability before Zacchaeus as he looks up at him from underneath. He has relinquished the high ground of privilege to the marginalized other—an expression of inverted hospitality that the parading crowd has no agency to comprehend. The Gospel of loving inclusion will always be met with oppositional grumbling from those blindly meandering along the parade route of exclusion.
In a world where many grasp for positions on the high ground of privilege and esteem, Jesus’ display of inverted hospitality is a liberating invitation to embrace biblical shalom. An invitation that the upward gaze of Jesus extends to all hiding in the trees.