“When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “’Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’” – Luke 19:5
The other day in our Zoom staff meeting, I asked the church staff to change their Zoom display names. I invited them to choose a nickname, a name they had almost been given, or the name they chose in a foreign language class. There were a lot of good stories and some fun surprises. (Can you guess who on staff was almost named “Cassiopeia”?)
The story of Zacchaeus is a favorite for many. The bizarre and quaint image of a short man climbing a tall tree. The tension between Zacchaeus and the community. The salvation Jesus offers and the healing Zacchaeus pursues provide plenty of powerful and beautiful ideas to highlight. Yet, today, I simply want to stay with his name.
In Hebrew, the name “Zacchaeus” can mean “pure” or “clean.” In the story, Zacchaeus is known as a traitor to his people. He was a sellout who defiled himself through his partnership with Roman authorities. Zacchaeus was morally, and likely ritually, unclean. In the Bible, a character’s name speaks of who they are or what will happen in their lives.
I like to think that when Jesus called out to Zacchaeus by name, he was doing more than getting the short man’s attention. Jesus saw what was present in the heart of Zacchaeus and he saw what was possible. Jesus saw the possibility that Zacchaeus could be restored to his community. His relationships could be purified and his shame expunged.
It is good to follow a savior and Lord who sees our heart and calls out those beautiful strengths we barely recognize in ourselves. When we say that God knows us through and through, this is not a scary truth as though God will condemn us for the shadows of our heart—no. When we say that God knows us from our first breath through today, we are saying that there are even more gifts and wonders in us that have yet to be brought to bear. May Christ call out these truths that live within us.