Jesus has been using the story of a wee little man named Zacchaeus (Luke 19) to melt my heart and mold something new in me.

I think sometimes we’re afraid to really share the depths of God’s love because we feel it’s important that people know they don’t deserve it and that He doesn’t approve of their sin. Like, Jesus loves you a lot, but don’t get too crazy!

But I’m pretty sure that deep down Zacchaeus knew he didn’t deserve love. He was a chief tax collector. He was a man who worked for Rome to take money from his people and give it to Rome. Not only that, but Zac sat on a mountain of money because he pocketed a lot of what he took. He was hated. By all means, this man was a complete slimeball. When I think of Zacchaeus, I picture Danny DeVito. I don’t know if Danny’s a slimeball too. But he’s short. I wonder if Zacchaeus was lonely. I wonder if he went home sad because he had all this money but no one wanted him. Until Jesus came to town.

Everyone had heard of Jesus. He was unlike anyone else. He healed, he liberated, and he was kind and generous and everything that Zacchaeus was not. When news spread that Jesus was going to pass through his hometown, it says that he went out into the streets because he was seeking to see who Jesus was. He couldn’t see because the crowds were so big and he was so small, so he ran ahead and climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of the famous Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus, with a heart full of love, stopped at his tree and asked him by name to come down so he could stay at his house! I can’t imagine how Zacchaeus felt when Jesus called his name. The surprise and the joy he felt in being wanted. And not just by anyone, but by the kindest, most joyful, most loving man the world had ever seen. Everyone wanted a piece of Jesus. And Jesus gave himself to this crook.

It didn’t seem to matter to Jesus that Zacchaeus didn’t deserve to be called down from the tree. One encounter with the love of God turned this thief into a generous man. He ended up giving half of his money to the poor, and with the rest he restored fourfold to everyone what he took.

I think of the “worst of the worst” that live here in Baton Rouge. The crooks, the pimps, the failures, the dropouts, the addicts, the losers, the fools. And Jesus wants them all.

We are afraid that if we lavish the love of God on people, they will think somehow they did something to deserve it. But it’s not until the light turns on that we see what is dark and what is light.

I’m discovering that God’s love isn’t some fluffy Hollywood character. It is uncomfortably radical and has the power to change the leper’s spots and melt a heart of stone. And we get to spend an eternity discovering the depths of His heart. He never ceases to change me.