From Bishop Steve Breedlove
I delight in the story of Zacchaeus, “the wee little man.” Some of my better friends might poke fun at me with a glance at my less-than-towering stature. But trust me: I like him for more than our shared love of climbing trees.
The people of Jericho knew Zacchaeus as simply “the exploiter – the rich, spiteful, dishonest jerk.” My guess is that he had reduced himself to such a hard place because of a settled narrative bounded by cynicism, self-service, unbelief, and loneliness. The first three ingredients propelled his thinking and actions. The last one lurked on the edges. Always. What was underneath that narrative and the choices it led Zacchaeus to make? When Jesus stopped under the sycamore tree and engaged him directly, he was knocking on the door of a lifetime of longings hidden behind a complicated labyrinth of wrong beliefs and sinful choices.
“Zacchaeus hurried and came down.” Who can fail to see the little guy in his expensive robes gleefully walking with Jesus through the crowd? He must have turned again and again to the tall man on his right, making sure he wasn’t imagining this. Who can fail to see the master walking in, sending his servants scurrying to the kitchen, shooing the children, fluffing the pillows and straightening the rugs to make space for his guests to recline and talk. Of course he chose the wine and took it to Jesus himself! Of course he ordered the menu! But as the arrangements began to fall in place, Zacchaeus settled down and began to listen.
If you look at the narrative in Luke 19, I am convinced there is a significant gap between verses seven and eight. In verse 7, Jesus “has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Then verse 8, Zacchaeus stood and declared his repentance, his restitution, his de facto conversion. It could have been instantaneous, but I don’t think so. I imagine something like a three-hour gap in the story. Three hours of laughter, food, good conversation, thoughtful probing back and forth, and listening. Especially listening. There was a Holy-Spirit-nurtured receptivity borne of exhaustion. As Zacchaeus listened, as he turned down the volume of his inner narrative, the face and words of Love probed relentlessly into the hidden corners of his soul.
This story is instructive for how Jesus applies his mission of seeking and saving the lost. The work he would soon do on the Cross was mediated into Zacchaeus’ soul through Jesus’ eagerness to spend three hours by his side. But this three-hour gap is not just about initial conversion. Jesus spent a similar three hours with his disciple Mary in Luke 10. Yes, we read his commendation of her choice of ‘the best part,’ but don’t forget: she simply took him up on his offer. The issue is, will we? Will we develop the practice of the three-hour gap? At stake is the ongoing conversion of our souls.
Psalm 130 was sung frequently by the Hebrew people en troupe as they ascended toward Jerusalem for worship. As do so many psalms, it gives voice to a commitment to wait, hope, and watch for the Lord. All God’s faithful people need regular three-hour gaps in the narratives of our lives. So let me make a proposition: at least once a month, make the arrangements, straighten up the space, and sit down with Jesus for three hours. Just half a day, alone, settled, quiet, dominated by longing and listening before the Lord and his Word. Who knows what conversions may occur?
I am the Bishop Ordinary of our Diocese, the Diocese of Christ our Hope, and married to Sally. We were blessed with five children, all married now, and (so far!), with eleven grandchildren. We live in Chapel Hill, NC.