How Jesus sees us, and others
September 30, 2022 by Rev. Dr. Andrew Kort
I typically dislike when my job is mentioned as a part of my introduction to others. I cannot count how many times have I been introduced to someone with the words, “This is Andy, the pastor at our church.”
It is not that I have an unfavorable view of my calling or the church I serve or am embarrassed by my profession, but I do know that when someone hears the words, “pastor” or “church” those words are potentially loaded with a tremendous amount of preconceived notions, both good and bad. As a result, some immediately lose interest in me, while others will then only want to discuss church in way too much detail.
I always worry that they make judgments on my political and social positions because I am a pastor at a Christian church in America. I understand that we sometimes need markers of identification, but I prefer it when I’m just introduced as “Andy” and then let people get to know me from there.
Because of this, it always strikes me as odd in the Bible when we are introduced to someone by their job or vocation. Of course, in some cases it helps to identify and differentiate between people who share the same name. Simon the Tanner is not the same person as Simon the Fisherman or even Simon the Leper. In a book full of people without last names, I guess this is beneficial. Yet, other times, I am not so sure it is helpful.
In Luke’s gospel, we are introduced to a man named Zacchaeus. Immediately we are told what he does for a living. He is a chief tax collector. And he is rich. And he is short (although I will never forget in seminary how one of my classmates argued that it was Jesus who was short in stature, so Zacchaeus had to climb the tree to see him).
Right away, because of these descriptors, Zacchaeus is set up as the bad guy, or at least a somewhat problematic figure. Oh, he’s a wealthy chief tax collector? We are not supposed to be sympathetic to that kind of person! I wonder how he’d respond to being introduced to generations of readers by his vocation, economic situation, and stature. Would he have preferred to simply be on the pages of scripture as Zacchaeus of Jericho, and let the readers take it from there?
I am currently re-watching the television show “Ted Lasso” with my daughter. In one episode, Ted has an issue with one of the characters because she is a therapist. This is based on Ted’s previous experience with a member of that profession. In his mind, therapists are persona non grata. That is, until he is reminded of a lovely quote that he uttered earlier, “Every person is a different person.”
When I look at Zacchaeus, I want to see beyond what he does for a living. It shouldn’t matter to me how wealthy he is. I want to see him as an individual. Every person is a different person, so I don’t want to lump him in with all the other tax collectors we’ve met in scripture before. Let’s give him a chance to show us who he really is.
I’m challenged by this as a pastor. Most churches I’ve served are more excited about a new member who is a doctor, lawyer, or professor than they are about one who is unemployed. I probably do that too. I also know the temptation of putting everyone in the same pot just because they are old, young, etc. But if every person is a different person, then I want to see them as Jesus sees them, as someone who is worthy of care, attention, and grace.
So, when I look at Zacchaeus, and hopefully when I look at others, I can see that ultimately it doesn’t matter what we do for a living. It matters what we do with our living. And Zacchaeus decides to live generously.
I think the good news in this passage is that Jesus pursues Zacchaeus and sees him for who he truly is: God's beloved. I hope I can do the same with others. And I hope they can do the same with me.
Rev. Dr. Andy Kort serves as co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis, Md. graduated from Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. He received his Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Prior to his time in Annapolis, he served as Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Bloomington, IN. Before that, Andy served as Pastor of Pilgrim Presbyterian Church in Phillipsburg, NJ and Associate Pastor of Larchmont Avenue Church in Larchmont, NY.