Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thess. 5:11

Everyone needs a word of encouragement. Around us, people may be grieving or are stressed out; others might be feeling hopeless and numb. We forget that sometimes, one simple word from us to them, or one simple smile, or one simple invitation to lunch can profoundly affect their lives.

I wonder what Zacchaeus must have felt when Jesus rocked his world. The Bible describes Zacchaeus as short in height, unable to see Jesus properly in a crowd unless he climbed a tree. He was a tax collector; in fact, he was the chief tax collector in his area. He was wealthy, but he was known as a cheater.

If we dig into Zacchaeus’ identity, we’d have a treasure chest of thoughts. Consider these musings: how much teasing and jeering did Zacchaeus endure throughout his life? Childhood jeers can easily stamp a person’s self worth! As a tax collector collecting money from fellow Jews for the Roman invaders— wasn’t that a horrible profession? Why aid the invader? Was he not branded as a traitor by his own race? And as the chief tax collector, did it not make him the head of a shameful group of people? He may have been wealthy, but from that wealth, how much exactly did he pocket?  The labels “sinner” and “cheater” were heavy labels. It’s one thing to know you are these labels in your heart; another to be labeled by society as such!

Yet, of all the people whom Jesus decided to eat with that day, it was Zacchaeus. Jesus saw the short man clinging to the branches of the sycamore tree and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

Imagine what Jesus’ words did to Zacchaeus’ heart! This man who was shunned by the righteous men of his day heard the irresistible invitation of the Righteous One. I can imagine Zacchaeus thinking: What? Who? Me?  The Bible says that he came down the tree and welcomed Jesus gladly.

What Jesus did to Zacchaeus empowered his identity. The response of Zacchaeus was dramatic:  “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

If the short man had always been looked down by society literally and figuratively, that day of encountering Jesus was a day of his spirit’s height. Jesus lifted him up in encouragement. Yes, Zacchaeus  was worth Jesus’ time and love to eat with! All it took was a kind noticing, a kind invitation, a desire for presence. How many of us are aware that we can empower people to do good and do right just by mere encouragement and kindness? It is kindness that leads people to repentance! (see Romans 2:4)

To encourage people is a good challenge. It is a GOD challenge. There are Zacchaeuses around us in need of an encouraging smile, word, invitation, meal, hug… you name it! We can get creative with our encouragement! The question is, of course, will we choose to be people of encouragement? There are Zacchaeuses all around us.

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Janina Marie Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of One Voice Magazine, a teacher of world literature, and a student of the Bible. She enjoys reflecting on life’s curve balls and plateaus. She resides in the Philippines, the country known for people who smile a lot.