A few weeks ago, my husband Les preached a sermon called “Seeking Man Up a Tree,” about the Bible character Zacchaeus (found in Luke 19 in the Bible). It was, of course, a good sermon (😄).
It reminded me of the first magazine article I ever sold, called “The Zacchaeus Principle.” Published in the long-defunct Virtue magazine, it was based on Jesus’s encounter with Zacch as he headed toward into Jericho. This story is a great example of how Jesus built human connections—and how we can too.
The passage says Jesus “entered Jericho and was passing through.” Jesus wasn’t planning to hang out in Jericho. He was headed somewhere else, for some other purpose.
As Jesus approaches Jericho, people clamor to catch a glimpse of him. Suddenly, Jesus stops. He walks over to a tree. Somewhere close to Jesus is probably a scheduling secretary glancing nervously at his sundial and impatiently tugging at Jesus, trying to get Him back on schedule. Jesus then makes eye contact with Zacchaeus, perhaps offering a gentle smile. Nothing, not even an agenda, is more important to Jesus than this encounter.
We, on the other hand, can get so caught up in our busy lives that we forget to stop and really look at people. We blow past them at work or in the grocery store with a “hi-how-are-ya” and keep right on moving. Jesus teaches us the importance of stopping and focusing on individuals because they are important to God and so they should be to us. Can we look people in the eye and smile? It can be frightening, especially in our polarized world. We risk rejection, being misunderstood. But so many people in our society are lonely and in need of encouragement. Our attention and smile may be just what they need.
Jesus speaks then, ” Zacchaeus.” He calls him by name. Jesus is no politician wading into the crowd to grab a few hands, kiss a few babies and snag a few votes. He shows Zacch he is valued by using his name.
Maybe you are bad with names like I am, but Jesus shows us they’re important. He has the advantage of being omniscient, but experts say we are able to learn whatever is important to us. Can we take the time to learn people’s names and to use them? Our world can be so dehumanizing. In the store or a restaurant, let’s look for name tags and use the name as we address the person wearing the tag. When we are introduced to someone, let’s concentrate on learning their name and using it in conversation. Nothing else is so personal; it separates us from the masses.
Finally Jesus shows Zacchaeus he is valued by inviting himself to dinner. He allowed Zacchaeus to minister to his physical needs, even though he could have created food for Himself on the spot.
No one wants to feel like a charity case. When we act as though we have all the answers, we have it all together, we deny others the privilege of serving, of feeling valuable. Instead, let’s look for ways to utilize the expertise of others (although we probably shouldn’t invite ourselves for dinner!).
For a list-junkie like me, it would be tempting to put “meeting and talking to people” on my “to do” list and to force encounters so I can cross it off the list. That’s not Jesus’ point. His example shows me that people matter to God, so they must matter to me. I can’t view them as interruptions or as duties. I need to be praying for the people God will bring across my path that day and then be sensitive to the encounters I have, so I can make connections that encourage people in their lives and in their faith.
Think about the number of people we simply don’t notice in the course of a day—the receptionist, the cashier, the barista, the crossing guard, the drive-through teller. How would their lives and ours be different if we truly saw them, spoke with them, and validated their worth as human beings, not for how efficiently they can serve us?
Those four simple steps—stop, make eye contact, use someone’s name, make them feel valued—can transform our interactions with people. They will make the world a better place because when we do this we build human connections, modeled on Jesus.
So tell me, how will you build connections today?