If you gathered every person in human history and asked them, “What is the human source of our societal problems?” There would be a virtually unanimous response, “Selfishness!” Most cultures in human history have considered inordinate self-focus a vice that damages people and society. But there would be a tiny minority report from modern Western culture. Our culture’s answer to why people do harmful and destructive things is that they think too little of themselves. The proposed solution is that they learn to focus more on themselves and think more highly of themselves.
The problem for Christians who buy into the minority report of contemporary Western culture is that you cannot tack the gospel onto a self-referential worldview. The Scripture warns us, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” (Rom 12:3), and “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). Self must not be our reference point because we are to live “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Heb 12:2).
The story of Zacchaeus helps us see what happens when we humbly see Jesus with self-forgetful eyes of faith (Luke 19:1-10). It was almost Passover in Jerusalem. The city’s population had swollen. People gathered to see Jesus, this teacher everyone was talking about, and Zacchaeus was no exception. Zacchaeus was a wealthy man; a chief tax collector, refined and sophisticated. He wanted to see Jesus. But he had a problem, he was short. Due to the crowds, there was no way he was going to be able to see Jesus for himself.
Zacchaeus decided to climb a tree. A strange sight, I’m sure. Here is this wealthy, sophisticated man climbing a tree like a child. Rich, sophisticated men don’t climb trees. At least those who want to maintain an image of refinement and sophistication don’t. One reason Jesus continually warned about wealth is that it is hard to have wealth and not trust in the security and image of competence it creates. But Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus.
This moment is instructive for us. Zacchaeus was so lost in his desire to see Jesus that he did not care what others would say. He was demonstrating self-forgetful humility. He did not think about himself, only seeing Jesus. If seeing Jesus meant looking like a child and climbing a tree, so be it. Like Zacchaeus, we must learn to see the world through one lens–Jesus is Lord. Pride always whispers to our conscience, “how will this look to others?”
Zacchaeus was willing to be a fool in a tree for Christ’s sake, are you? In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Christian, do you want others to see you as a great person or a person with a great Savior? Cultural perception is not Lord, Jesus is Lord. Christians who believe Jesus is Lord are willing to be fools for Christ’s sake. What tree do you need to climb for Jesus’ sake? What trees are you calling those under your influence to climb for Jesus’ sake?