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Bullied and Bully

Bullying is a major social concern today, and rightly so. As we all know, the phrase “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a bunch of baloney. Words hurt. They make deep wounds and leave lasting scars. Bullying can influence the course of a child’s life.

As I was reading the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19, I wondered if we have a story of bullying. I don’t know for sure, obviously, but it certainly would mesh with what we do know.

Imagine with me for a moment: Zaccheus was a little boy … literally. He was “small in stature” – that is, short and slight. Think of the taunts his peers might have hurled at him: “Runt! Weakling! Baby!” The words would likely have been coupled with actions … shoves on the playground, ambushes on the way home, theft of his food or possessions.

I can imagine resentment and bitterness festering in this little boy and feeding a desire for control. A desire for revenge. A desire to hurt those who hurt him.

When he grows up, he finds a way to do so. He allies himself with the hated Romans and becomes a chief tax collector. Now, he can bully the bullies. He threatens. Extorts. Defrauds. And he becomes very rich.

He is bullying others, but he is still being bullied himself. You can tell, because when he was trying to see Jesus, “he was unable to because of the crowd.”

Can you see the scene? The crowd is lining the streets of Jericho, waiting for Jesus to come through. Zaccheus is in the back, standing on tiptoe, but he still can’t see. He tries to squeeze in, but is shoved back rudely. The same schoolmates who taunted him decades ago still represent a united front, reminding him that he is rejected and despised.

He runs ahead and climbs a tree, so eager is he to see Jesus. Jesus stops. He looks up, and he does what every bullied person longs for: he publicly dignifies him. “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”

Think about the import of these words:

* Jesus speaks to him publicly, counteracting all the private (and public) shaming he has endured.

* Jesus calls him by name, counteracting all the name-calling Zaccheus has suffered for years.

* Jesus expresses a desire to eat and fellowship with him, counteracting the ostracism and isolation of his life.

One sentence. One single sentence of welcome and inclusion that was meant from the heart. That was all it took. Zaccheus “hurried and came down and received Him gladly.”

The town bullies don’t like this turn of events: “When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’” Did you hear it? The name-calling hasn’t stopped. He isn’t “Zaccheus” … he is “a sinner.” The label strips Zaccheus of his identity and diminishes him.

But Jesus’ welcome has literally changed the course of Zaccheus’ life. Zaccheus doesn’t fight back against the bullies when he hears these ugly words. He gives up his desire for revenge and control. He doesn’t even look at them – his eyes are focused on Jesus as he says, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”

Wow. Talk about transformation!

Jesus again publicly honors Zaccheus – this time with words of incredible hope and promise: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Bullying is happening today – of children, teens, and adults. We need to follow in Jesus’ steps and reach out. Call hurting people by name. Show love and compassion. Fellowship with them. Honor them. Lives will be transformed when we do so.

And – as Jesus showed us – we must remember to do the same for the bullies. For the people who snipe and sneer and attack with their words and actions. We must reach out with an abundant outpouring of Jesus’ love, because “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

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