Jesus and Zacchaeus
Luke Chapter 19
1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." 9 Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen
OK, you know the song, let’s sing it.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see
And when the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree
And said, 'Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I'm going to your house today!
For I'm going to your house today!'
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
But a happy man was he
For he had seen the Lord that day
And a happy man was he;
And a very happy man was he
Kind of brings you back to a simpler, easier time in life, doesn’t it.
Reminds me of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School and doing things like building little ‘biblical homes’ out of sugar cubes and popsicle sticks, not to mention the singing of songs like this.
This song, though appropriate for young children, doesn’t quite capture what is going on in this story.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man.
OK, so that is Biblically accurate. He is described as being short of stature.
There are prejudices against short men. There is a feeling among some that short men overcompensate for their slight stature with an oversized ego and aggressive personality.
There’s probably not much truth to that. I don’t know, as is obvious, I’ve never had to deal with being short.
But Zacchaeus’ problem wasn’t that he was short.
His problem was that he was a chief tax collector, and considered despicable and a traitor and a crook by just about everyone.
He was no Alice N.
Alice is a dear lady in Sandpoint who worked for years in the County Government receiving people’s property tax payments.
People like Alice.
Tax collectors were collecting those taxes for Rome.
Because of that, the tax collectors were considered collaborators with the foreign occupying government, and traitors to their own people.
The way that worked in Jesus’ day is that the Roman Government awarded contracts to people to collect taxes in a specific region, and those contracts would specify how much revenue was to be raised for Rome. The tax collector was then authorized to raise more than that and by so doing, make a profit for himself.
That Zacchaeus was a rich man suggests that he was using his position as a tax collector to exploit the people. Hence he was seen as being criminal.
Like I said, despicable. Hated by all. Neither loved or respected by any.
I was trying to think who might be like that in our current day and age.
It’s hard to come up with an exact parallel, in part because we are not occupied by a foreign power, so the whole traitorous thing is not part of our experience.
Although, perhaps people who were spies for the Soviet Union might qualify.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed during the Cold War for having sold nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.
We don’t love tax collectors very much, especially if we’ve had struggles with them.
One of my professors in seminary had an uncle who was a high ranking official with the Internal Revenue Service, and had responsibility for collecting back taxes, I believe.
At any rate, Oscar had to have open heart surgery and was recuperating in the hospital when someone recognized him.
The disgruntled tax payer stuck his head in Oscar’s hospital room and shouted, “I hope you die!”
There are other people whose professions, and criminal inclinations are despicable.
Drug dealers who profit off of addictions.
Human traffickers who exploit women and children for profit.
Imagine then, Jesus encountering someone such as these.
"Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today."
All who saw it began to grumble.
"He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner."
To associate with a notorious sinner is to tolerate, even condone, their sin. This is a long held belief.
“Jesus, what are you doing???!!!”
Grace changes people.
Grace reaches out to people, where they are, and changes people.
And grace, always comes first.
When we encounter notorious sinners, we have a tendency to insist that they repent before we will associate with them, lest we be seen as condoning their behavior.
But grace comes first.
'Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I'm going to your house today!
These grace filled words of Jesus had a remarkable result.
Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much."
That Zacchaeus would respond in such a manner might well be an indication that he knew all along what he was doing was wrong.
There is a rule of thumb going on here.
If you want to bring about change, you have to change.
If you continue to despise certain people, they will likely remain despicable.
If you learn to love people, they will become more lovable.
Hatred begets hatred.
Love begets love.
Zacchaeus’ life is transformed by this simple act of Jesus.
"Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
Therein lays the challenge for us in the Church.
Do we seek out and save the lost like Jesus did?
Some of the leaders in our Church have pointed out that one of the true signs of an effective evangelism program is how many adult baptisms a congregation celebrates. The reason being that child baptisms just mean that you’re having kids, adult baptisms mean that you’re reaching out to the unchurched.
Perhaps there is an even more radical sign that we are being Christ like in our ministries.
How many despicable people are in our midst?
Actually, that is a trick question because if we truly have the heart of Jesus, no one is despicable.
But if we have the heart of Jesus, we will welcome those whom the world despises.
And by loving the unlovable and welcoming the outcast we will all be transformed.
And that’s the thing. Love transforms both the lover and the beloved.
Churches that reach out to the outcast are changed by that experience, transformed by the Holy Spirit.
And the outcast that are embraced by the love of Christ are themselves changed.
Today Salvation has come to this house for the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.