A Letter to My Younger Self, Zacchaeus of Jericho

Dear Younger Me:

Tonight is going to be your last good night of sleep for awhile so after Mama comes in and shares some of the psalms of David with you, after you pray together; snuggle down into your blankets and enjoy the sweet shalom that comes with the rest of the innocent, because after tomorrow you won’t know that kind of sleep for a long, long time.

Remember the Gang of Four, those four older boys who hang out together after the work is done for the day?  You know you want to be one of them, right?  Why can’t they make it the Gang of Five?  When you wake up tomorrow morning, you’re going to decide that this will be the day that they let you become one of them.  Sure you’re a little younger than them, but getting your own way has never been difficult for you.  Determination and accomplishing goals seems to have been built into your DNA.  A few words of explanation to the other four boys, a quick vote, and you’ll be in.

But that isn’t how it will work out for you, tomorrow, Zacchaeus, not at all.

Tomorrow afternoon when you meet them outside the city walls under one of the palm trees that dot the plains all around your beautiful hometown, they’re going to turn you down.  They’re going to call you the son of a dirty tax-collector. That won’t particularly bother you, because you’ve heard that before.  What will bother you, what will turn your nights bitter and angry, what will make you take all of that determination and forcefulness and channel it into a life of getting back at those by whom you feel slighted, they’re going to hang a nickname on you which will spread rapidly around Jericho and become the moniker by which you are known.  They will call you “Shorty.”

You’ve never really noticed this before tomorrow afternoon.  Indeed, you’ll run home to Mama, filled with fury, and ask her if you are short. She will respond that what you lack in size you make up for in grit and self-confidence, which you will understand is another way of saying, “Yes, Zacchaeus, you are short.”

You’re going to hear that nickname of derision every day for the rest of your life and it will be bitter.  You’ll tell yourself right then and there that the Gang of Four will pay, and you will make good on that vow.  They will pay, literally.  Again, and again, and again. What good is the chief tax-collector of a district if he cannot fleece the people whom he hates? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Tomorrow night, you’re going to toss and turn in bed and relive that ugly, bitter day.  You’re going to hear those boys calling you “shorty,” and feel the rocks pelting your back as they drive you away with a barrage of them.  Your stomach is going to churn and you are going to begin to form plans of revenge and set your life’s goal to make those four boys miserable and in large part, you are going to succeed in that aim, but you’re not going to sleep very well.  Your name, after all, means “pure” or “justified.”  You, with your heightened sense of self-awareness are going to understand that you may be named Zacchaeus, but you are far from pure and hopefully God doesn’t notice you because you’re pretty much going to grow up the opposite of your name.

Here is what I want you to do, younger Zacchaeus.  I want you to embrace all of it: the anger at the Gang of Four, the animosity that is born out of that, the growing hatred for everyone who calls you “Shorty,” and the plans for revenge.  I want you to experience the insomnia that comes from the fury that spins around inside you.  I want you to obsess endlessly over your stature.

Unbeknownst to you, this is the first step in a chain of grace that ends at the most unimaginable encounter from the branches of a sycamore tree on the road leading right into Jericho [or out of Jericho depending on whether you’re talking about New Jericho or Old Jericho].  Name calling as grace?  Rage as a gift?  Plans for revenge as a means of experiencing the God who created everything?  You would never guess that, would you Zacchaeus? But it’s true, and you’re going to find out how true it is.  The road is long, and very painful, but that seems to be the nature of finding grace, especially when you’re the chief tax collector and everyone hates you.

Sleep well, Zacchaeus.  It will be your last good night of sleep until Yeshua calls you out of a sycamore tree.

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