By Donna Hughey

Have you ever felt left out or shunned by others? It can be for any reason — your job, race, background, or even because of gossip. Or instead of being the one shunned, have you ever excluded another person because they didn’t quite fit into your expectations? Either way, I think we’d all agree that people are fickle and are masters at judging and excluding others.

Which brings me to Luke 19:1-10; a story about a man named Zacchaeus. But first, let me give a little background and set the scene for what’s about to happen.

Jesus had just told his disciples they were going up to Jerusalem where he would fulfill prophecy by being rejected, put to death and then rise again on the third day (Luke 18:31-34).

On their way, on the outskirts of Jericho, Jesus and his disciples (and the crowds who were following them) encounter a blind man. Jesus performs a miracle and restores the blind man’s sight, again proving to the crowds that he is the long-awaited Messiah. The disciples and the crowds go crazy praising God (Luke 18:35-43).

News of the miracle travels throughout Jericho. And it’s here, in Jericho, where Jesus meets Zacchaeus and carries out his ultimate mission: to save guilty sinners.

Now Zacchaeus was a chief tax-gatherer and very wealthy. The people did not like tax collectors and considered Zacchaeus a great sinner, something which would exclude him from Jewish society. In other words, Zacchaeus was shunned by the people.

But Jesus did something extraordinary. As Zacchaeus was trying to see Jesus from atop a tree, Jesus looked up, called him by name, and invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house — possibly for a meal. The crowds were stunned and muttered, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ”

Isn’t it amazing how the praising and rejoicing of the earlier miracle is now replaced with scorn from the crowd? They’re now angry and passing judgment (Luke 19:7).

Why did the crowds become angry that Jesus was associating with Zacchaeus? Because they viewed Zacchaeus as a sinner, and as such, they believed he should be avoided. In fact, they had no problem at all judging the sins of Zacchaeus; their problem was failing to see that they, too, were also sinners and needed a savior.

But Jesus was making a point by associating with Zacchaeus that day; he was showing the people he came to save the unworthy, to save sinners. And that includes all people — people like Zacchaeus, people like those in the crowd that day, and people like you and me.

This passage in Scripture teaches us that through Jesus all people can receive salvation but it teaches us something else too; that we are in no position to judge or shun others just because we might consider them “too sinful” — all people are sinners and all people need a savior.

This reminds me of something my pastor once said, “You may be the only Jesus a person ever sees. You’re a light. If you are carrying Christ in your life and you are being transformed and made new, you’re going to be in situations where it’s dark and you’re going to be the light that points people to Christ. One of the greatest compliments we can ever receive from anyone is hearing someone say, ‘I see Christ in you.’ ”

Instead of avoiding or shunning people who we believe are “too sinful,” we should adopt God’s attitude and view others with grace and mercy — just as Jesus did that day in Jericho.

After all, we just might be the only Jesus a person will ever see.

Donna Hughey is an award winning Christian author and columnist. She lives in Crescent City.