Posted on September 29, 2011


I always struggle for an answer when people ask what I wanted to be when I grew up.

This is partially because the answer changed a lot. The question of vocational destiny is a moving target in childhood, owing as much to what toy they have played with most recently as to serious deliberation on a future career path. My own responses to that question included (if no cartoons had been watched that day) a baker, neurosurgeon, second baseman, or a contestant on Jeopardy. And if cartoons had been watched that day, I wanted to be David the Gnome.

But the struggle also stems from the fact that I don’t want to give an honest answer to the question. Because truthfully, I just wanted to be one thing when I grew up: Scott Hunt’s best friend.

Scott Hunt was the son of our next door neighbors, a sixteen or seventeen year old with reddish-brown hair and a lanky, vascular build. The brim of his baseball cap was always bent into a perfectly cool half-circle, and he was an excellent athlete. I have no doubt that, like most teenagers, his desire was to live a life free of hassle from eight year olds. This was a problem. Because I idolized him.

To say that I worshipped the ground that Scott Hunt walked on is not hyperbole. It might even be more accurate to say that I regarded him with the same healthy perspective later immortalized in the classic buddy-comedy Single White Female.

My go-to move looked like this: I would sit at our kitchen table and monitor the Hunt’s driveway with an observational power more akin to deep space telescopes, in hopes that Scott would come outside to throw tennis balls against the side of their house. When he did, I would rush across our yard and try to impress him with outrageous lies, either about my nonexistent sporting exploits, or how I owned exclusively Umbro clothes except for whatever I was wearing right then. I would also beg to drive his remote controlled cars- the cordless ones with the nine volt battery and the trigger-controlled handset- which I was fascinated by, and, when given my chance, nearly involve in 1.1 car pileups in the street. In retrospect, he deserved some kind of medal.

But although I basically stalked Scott Hunt, I did so with an innocent heart and pure intentions**. What was more likely at play was the same murky impulse that once led me to invent a fictional older brother and then tell my fourth grade teacher that he had died in a car accident. Which is to say that I often felt insecure and unsure of myself, and I craved validation from someone older and more confident. Also, that I was weird.

**- Now that I type it, this is basically the Stalker Motto.

I say this so that, when I mention that Frank Schmitt and I once spied on Scott playing NBA Jam on Sega Genesis through the Hunt’s living room window, like actors in the Disney Channel remake of ‘Rear Window’, it will be understood that this was perfectly in character for me, and also probably the least insane thing I did that day.

Again, there was no weirdness intended. Frank and I were just really obsessed with NBA Jam. It helps to remember that, at that cultural instant, NBA Jam was a Stage 4 Youth Juggernaut. While Frank and I were window-shopping at Scott’s house, kids nationwide were mobbing the arcade version of NBA Jam, trading fistfuls of sweaty quarters for ten minutes with an even sweatier joystick. The home console version enjoyed equal success, with sales driven in large part by the following exchange, some variation of which was had by 18.3 million parents in the early 1990’s.

CHILD: Can I get Mortal Kombat for my birthday? PLEASE?

PARENT: (looks at Mortal Kombat box, which features players throwing harpoons, tearing out other people’s hearts, and decapitating one another) Let’s try this basketball game instead.

How Frank and I managed to get our hands on a copy of NBA Jam remains one of the true mysteries of my childhood, one that can’t be solved even with the benefit of hindsight. I know my parents were too savvy just to buy it for us, although they would, in later years, fall for the classic “If you buy us Product X**, we will repay you for it by doing its money value in chores!” plan that never actually works out.

**– In our case, a giant trampoline.

It’s more likely that Frank and I pooled our modest savings and bought it ourselves. The split was 60%/40%, with my 60% buying me the right to keep the game at my house where the Sega was. Frank’s 40% bought him the right to, at first, come and play it whenever he wanted, and later, to realize that he had basically bought somebody else a video game. This is the kind of bad financial deal that almost every friend tandem makes together at some point, regardless of age (the adult version is called a ‘time share’). Hopefully Dave Ramsey will include it in a future book of money advice for kids, titled Debt Stinks: How the Scent of Borrowed Money Helps Monsters Find and Devour You.

The story of Zaccheus in Luke 19 is the Bible’s version of me Stalking Scott Hunt For His Video Games. Most people are familiar with Zaccheus’ story from his Sunday School jingle, although when I say that it is “his”, I am implying it is about him, not that he composed it himself.

The Biblical account of Zaccheus’ tree-climbing escapade surprises our childhood memories with what’s missing from it. We know Zaccheus’ occupation and social standing (v. 2 “…he was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become a very rich man.”). We know that something compelled him to see Jesus in Jericho (v. 3 “…he tried to get a look at Jesus, but was too short…”). The text tells us that he was known to be corrupt (v. 7, the people refer to him as a “notorious sinner”). And we know that Zaccheus ultimately repents of his sins, (v. 8) offering to give “half my wealth to the poor….and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much.”

What’s absent from the story, however, is motive. Luke’s prose is a journalist’s dream, giving us the who, when, where and what. But why? What drives Zaccheus into a tree just to see Jesus? And what happens from the tree to the house that changes his attitude?

One option we have is to speculate. We can guess that Zaccheus rushed to to the tree because he was guilt-ridden over his tax-cheating ways. We can guess that just one moment with the Lord was enough to overwhelm Zaccheus’ pride and flip his heart into a devoted Jesus follower. And all of those things not only might be correct, they probably are.

But another option is to accept the text as it is, void of insight into Zaccheus’ motives. When we do that, something interesting happens. Zaccheus’ story wriggles free from our preconceived notions. It leaves behind the Sunday School lessons we’ve heard about Zaccheus’ need to see Jesus (“What tree have you climbed to see the Lord lately?”) or about making restitution for our mistakes. It sheds all the baggage of teaching ways to show God that we are really super-serious about following Him this time.

Instead, it tells us this, in verse 5: “When Jesus walked by, he saw Zaccheus and called him by name.”

I have no idea what impulse made Zaccheus need to see Jesus so badly. And I don’t know what Zaccheus thought would happen when he saw Jesus.   The Bible doesn’t tell us, either.  But I know why I watched Scott Hunt play video games through his living room window, and what I hoped would happen: I wanted to be called out to.

NBA Jam may have been the initial draw for me, just as the crowds and the spectacle may have been the lure for Zaccheus. But deep in my heart, what I I wanted, was for Scott to come out on his deck, call my name, and invite me in to play with him. I wanted the same moment that Zaccheus had with Jesus when they locked eyes for the first time, his adrenaline spiking as Jesus called his name. “Get down here, Zaccheus! I am coming to your house today!”

The story of Zaccheus is not about the our ingenuity in getting seen by Jesus, but about how Jesus calls to us. He calls us by name, from whatever trees we’ve climbed to get a glimpse of him, certain in our insecurity that he will pass us by. He invites himself into our personal worlds, ignoring the gathered crowd of our past actions that condemn us as well-known sinners. And he ushers us into the Kingdom life with words of salvation: “…for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” (v.9)

To seek and save the lost. While our motives for seeking Jesus may be as vague as Zaccheus’ were, Jesus’ motives for calling to us are not. While Zaccheus chose wisely, running to a tree over a Jericho street where Jesus would be, our lost-ness sometimes sends us to the wrong trees, looking for other avenues of salvation, like I did at Scott’s house.

It doesn’t matter. Jesus knows what we were really looking for, and who we were when he saw us. And he calls to us anyway.

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