We’re in Jericho. There’s a sycamore fig tree, expansive and with low branches. Zaccheus is in this tree, surrounded by dark-green, heart-shaped leaves. Zaccheus is not just a despised tax collector—a reverse Robin Hood, a symbol of oppression, equal parts powerful and corrupt—he’s a chief tax collector. And the Son of God— who speaks with authourity, hates injustice, and loves righteousness—is approaching this sycamore fig tree. Picture yourself in that crowd. Speak on our behalf, Jesus.
But Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” What beautiful, Mediterranean warmth are in those words.
Jesus comes into a city and sees the corruption, sin and pain. And he walks up to the traitor and invites himself to a party at this man’s house. Jesus is trustworthy when he says that he did not come to judge the world, but to save it.
Jesus brought many things to Jericho that day, but his joy stands out. How do you hear Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus? Is he the headmaster talking to a misbehaving student? Or is he the shepherd speaking to the lost sheep—one made in the image of God?
The joy of the Lord makes me ask a couple questions. Do I enter the city and see the corruption, sin and pain and bring joy? Are my relationships marked by this joy? Living a life of serving others can make us very serious people. If we seek his kingdom we will, like Christ, know sorrow and suffering. That’s a promise! But he also promises joy.
We believe that joy is essential. Here’s what we said about joy in our first vision paper:
Joy: at the heart of the way of Jesus, at the core of the gospel and the centre of God’s Kingdom is joy and great gladness. The gospel is “good news of great joy.” (Luke 2:10). Without joy, our life together becomes dull and wearying. But joy in the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10), a resource that often keeps us moving forward. In the book version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, there are many feasts scattered throughout the epic journey. Even in the midst of a life-and-death battle in Middle Earth, there was space and time for feasting. In fact, the feasting, the banqueting on joy was, some would say, necessary; the feasts fed courage and hope as much as they nourished bodies.
We are not talking about pasting shiny, happy faces on. Joy takes note of difficulty and trial yet still remains rooted in gladness because of the greater hope of God’s Kingdom, his sovereign rule that will come. And so, as author Richard Foster writes, “Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be light-hearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride.”
And so we will celebrate and practice gladness. We will enjoy God and take joy in one another. Daily we will make the choice to rejoice, singing and praising God. We will regularly feast and celebrate. We will laugh often and live together with a child’s sense of playfulness, trusting in the goodness of our Father.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
Peter de Koning, Communication Coordinator