Luke | Recognizing our limits

The gospel tells us that Zacchaeus is a man of short stature. He is also limited by Roman rule, by social expectations, and by other people’s judgements. Like Zacchaeus, we too are creatures with limits. We all experience social pressures and expectations; we all have finite time, energy, money, and capacity for relationship. Everything we do conforms to or upsets social expectations; everything we do uses time, energy, money, and capacity for relationship. Wisdom means recognising this, and weighing up our commitments accordingly. At this time of year, then, when many of us are deciding what we will commit to in the year to come, let us reflect on our context, our limits, our commitments, and our relationship with Jesus Christ.

As we begin:

  • In gospel stories, where and when do people encounter Jesus?


Jesus and his disciples went into Jericho and passed through. There was a man named Zacchaeus, a chief tax-collector, who was very rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was. But, being a man of short stature, he couldn’t, because of the crowd.

Every one of us is mobbed by social expectations and commitments. We all experience pressures from our family and our social class; we all commit time, energy, money, and capacity for relationship to work, friends, and extended family; to children’s extracurricular activities; to musicals and to sports; to shopping and to home improvement; to keeping up with the latest series on Netflix. We are caring for others; we are in community groups; we all do many, many things. None of these things are bad in and of themselves; but put them all together, and they soon crowd out intimacy with Jesus Christ.

  • In light of the first question, and looking back over the last twelve months, what has blocked you from encountering Jesus more deeply more often?


Zacchaeus ran on ahead, along the route Jesus was going to take, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him.

A powerful businessman in an Armani suit is so curious, and so desperate, to know who Jesus is, that he runs, and then he climbs a tree. He sheds his dignity, he risks his business, and he gives up any last shred of social status, simply to place himself in Jesus’ path.

  • As you look towards the coming year, what changes could you make to place yourself more directly in Jesus’ path? What social norms or expectations could you shed? What time, energy, money or relationships could you give up? What would you risk?


When Jesus came to the place, he looked up. ‘Zacchaeus,’ he said to him, ‘hurry on down. I have to stay at your house today.’

For most if not all of us, Jesus is a sometime visitor. Perhaps he is sitting quietly on the corner of the couch, while we race around madly and bustle the kids out the door. Perhaps he’s walking the garden in the cool of the evening, while we’re inside scrolling through Facebook and half-watching Netflix. Perhaps he’s the guru we call on when we’re faced with a difficult decision. But he’s willing to dwell with us, and in us, today and every day.

  • How might your life look different if Jesus was staying in your dwelling today and every day, that is, if he made a home in you?


Zacchaeus hurried on down, and welcomed Jesus with joy. Everybody began to murmur when they saw it. ‘He’s gone in to spend time with a proper old sinner!’ they were saying. But Zacchaeus stood there and addressed the Master. ‘Look, Master,’ he said, ‘I’m giving half my property to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I’m giving it back to them four times over.’

Last week, we heard a self-righteous Pharisee boasting about giving away one tenth of his income. Here, Zacchaeus spontaneously gives away half his worldly goods; and he publicly promises that, if he has in fact defrauded anyone, then he will make the restitution as set out in Exodus: that which has been stolen, he will return fourfold (Exod. 22:1).

  • Currently, how do you express the joy of your salvation in concrete ways? That is, how do you use your time, energy, money and other resources to express your joy at being found, known and loved by Jesus? Are you being called to anything more?


‘Today,’ said Jesus, ‘salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. You see, the human one came to seek and to save the lost.’

Come, Lord Jesus, come: and may we, like Zacchaeus, risk everything, race towards you, and welcome you with joy. Amen.

A reflection on Luke 19:1-10 given to Sanctuary, 3 November 2019 © Alison Sampson, 2019. Gospel translation lightly adapted from ‘Luke for Everyone’, by Tom Wright. 

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