I’ve been thinking about Zacchaeus again. Remember him? He’s the ‘wealthy but short’ tax collector of Jericho who ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree so that he could get a good view when Jesus came through town. Jesus was walking purposefully through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem when he noticed Zacchaeus and called him down from the tree with the announcement, “Today is my day to be a guest in your home.” The people in the crowd who knew only too well how this tax collector had used his position to build his wealth were indignant: “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”
I wonder what it was that led Jesus on that particular day to ‘come along side’ Zacchaeus? Of all the people who must have caught his attention, he chose a crooked tax collector in a tree! Actually, when you think about it, Zacchaeus must have been quite a sight up there in the sycamore with the children! What went on in Jesus head and heart that day? Perhaps: “Let’s get Zacchaeus out of that tree before one of these angry people pulls him down!” Or maybe: “Last time I was through Jericho Zacchaeus was sitting at a table collecting taxes; now he’s up a tree! What’s going on?” Or could it be: “There’s something that just draws me to this tax collector in a tree, an irresistible pull I can’t deny. I wonder what would happen if I chose the hospitality of his home today?”
It’s this matter of the inner pull to ‘come along side’ another that interests me. This is the discernment to know when our loving attention to another might be a gift. Once discerned, we then take on the discipline of coming along side with nothing but the interest of the other person at heart. This requires a quality of paying attention and listening that takes both intention and practice! Do you remember times when someone has accompanied you and given you their full attention without judgement, without any need to advise or fix, without needing to tell their own story? They have just been willing to be a presence, listening in such a way that you found yourself hearing yourself ever more clearly, appreciating your own wisdom and continuing to uncover ‘love for self’ that exists beyond fear and negative self-judgement. When we have experienced that quality of accompaniment, it settles in us as a good memory.
At the heart of this Practice of Coming Alongside are two simple, yet challenging things: listening so well to the speaker that you can truly hear what they have said and meant; and listening so well to yourself that you can notice what comes up for attention inside you (what is evoked). Knowing the difference between these two things is key in this matter of accompaniment. Our human tendency is to act on what rises up in us so that the interaction becomes focused on our agenda and needs rather than those of the person we have ‘come alongside’. That’s why we so quickly become givers of advice, dispensers of solutions, tellers of stories, and lovers of judgement. The truth is that all is required of us is to sit with the other, to give our full attention, and to listen ever more deeply.
Jesus notices Zacchaeus in the tree. His heart goes to him. He chooses to come alongside by announcing that this is his day to be a guest in Zacchaeus’ home. Something transformative is already moving in Zacchaeus, so that, as the people in the crowd grumble, he is able to make a declaration from the depth of his own unfolding desire for renewed relationships: “Master, I give away half my income to the poor – and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.” Then Jesus, having listened deeply to all that Zacchaeus has said in word and action, declares what has been evoked in him: “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the I came to find and restore the lost.” Can you imagine the wonderful conversation that followed at Zacchaeus’ home as these two lovers of transformation came alongside one another and listened deeply and spoke lovingly to one another?