The First Steps in witnessing are the hardest – but once we start walking we’ve committed ourselves to reaching out; those first tentative steps become faith-filled steps.
Jesus began the process when he stepped from heaven into our place – once here his life was marked by the way he consistently walked across rooms, market-places, cultures, and societal norms to reach out to others – complete strangers normally, women and men, often those from the wrong side of town; often those that good folk would prefer not to be seen with.
Zacchaeus, one man amongst a crowd, one man – probably the least likely to receive special attention; but when Jesus saw Zacchaeus precariously perched in his sycamore tree he seemed to see something that most of us miss.
We see a crook, a swindler, a greedy little man, a sinner. Someone to be avoided.
Jesus sees a child of God, a heart open to grace, a broken needy man. Someone to be loved.
Jesus reached out in 3 quite simple, practical and faithful steps:
1. Developed the friendship:
Jesus had arrived in town with the intention of passing through. This was not his destination, stopping the night was not on his agenda.
Zacchaeus however heard that Jesus was coming and he was determined to see Jesus. Given his unpopularity I imagine the crowd made it hard for him, also being a short man he didn’t stand much chance of seeing anything. Desperate he climbed a tree – I guess this caused further derision as he sat perched there like a frightened sparrow – but he was determined – he hung on – just for a glimpse of Jesus.
Imagine then what it felt like when Jesus stopped, looked at him over the heads of the crowd, called him by name, and invited himself around for supper, and a bed for the night.
A bond was formed – trust began, a friendship sparked
2. Discovered the Zacchaeus story:
Zacchaeus told his story – maybe for the first time because he found someone he could trust with it. Jesus listened! Jesus learned! Jesus loved! What Jesus did was pretty simple – not at all super-spiritual; he simply offered Zacchaeus himself: he was present, he listened, he didn’t judge. We can do this!
3. Discerned next steps:
Jesus listened because he cared, he listened to understand, he listened to discern what else he could do, needed to do, for Zacchaeus.
And so it can be with us. Having developed trust we can discover the person’s story and as we do we listen with our physical and spiritual ears; we listen to discern what it is that God is asking of us.
With Zacchaeus it seems to be that Jesus simply listened and encouraged. With the woman at the well Jesus confronted, the woman caught in adultery he refused to condemn, the rich young ruler he challenged, with Mary and Martha he relaxed, enjoyed their company and home cooking.
In any conversation there are a number of places we can take the relationship; how do you know what is appropriate? Only by careful listening: to the person while at the same time to God the Spirit.
Bill Hybels calls this “living in 3D”: develop – discover – discern. Faithful steps we can all take.