The tax collector took a tentative step forward. Then another. Then he grabbed hold of the low branches and swung a leg up. He looked around briefly. The crowd was coming, the noise growing louder. Up and up and up. His heart beat faster and faster and faster. Still he climbed. He was sweating now through the weight of his clothes. He barely had enough time to consider, once again, why he was pushing his way up this sycamore tree, because the crowd was right below Him now, teeming with excitement. The leaves got thicker as he edged forward… and then he saw Him. And something burst inside of Zacchaeus.
He froze, like a squirrel caught on a limb too far from the next. It was a feeling like he’d never experienced, for to his great surprise, the man wasn’t looking at the crowd. He wasn’t glad-handing the people around Him, nor was He looking forward where He was going. He was looking into the tree. Right at Zacchaeus.
Can you imagine what went through his mind at that moment? Can you fathom the insecurity of suddenly seeing not only Jesus, but every face in the crowd turn upward? Can you see his face start to turn red as the mouths of that crowd started to turn upward in jeering laughter?
But then Jesus spoke, and when Jesus speaks, everything changes:
“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5).
Everyone in town knew his name, though they likely only said it derisively. He was, after all, a tax collector – a Jew who had chosen to work for the occupying Romans. He was a social outcast, a traitor among his people. He was one known not only to collect the taxes from his own kinsmen but also to collect more than was actually required. A little off the top for old Zacchaeus. Oh yes – they knew his name.
But Jesus knew it too. In the midst of the crowd pressing in, Jesus knew His name. And that simple truth is a powerful one.
For just as Jesus knew the name of the dominative, tree-climbing, turncoat, He knows your name, too. And He knows mine. And oh, what a beautiful thing it is to be known. Beautiful, if not a little terrifying. Because the fact that Jesus knows our name is the simplest of indicators that He knows a lot more than that. Nothing in all creation is hidden from His sight. He can, and does, search and know us. Our most intimate thoughts. The hidden places of our hearts. The things that we are either too ashamed or too afraid to even admit to ourselves. Jesus knows it all along with our names.
And yet He loves us anyway.
And though we can, and should, find immense comfort in this truth alone, we can, and should, take this truth one step further. For if we are to live as Jesus lived, and love as Jesus loved, then it means we also ought to seek out those around us. To know them. To love them. To treat them as neighbors. To refuse to allow people to be anonymous.
Jesus knows their names. And because He knows their names, we also ought to know their names as well.
This is more than just flowery language; it is, in my mind, very literal. We ought to really, actually, truly know their names. It’s a simple thing, a basic skill, but one we must devote ourselves to as a minimal first step in order to truly know and love our neighbors as we follow Jesus.
We must know their names. And go from there.