He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 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.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 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.” Then Jesus said to him, “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.” Luke 19: 1-10
Psalm 24 opens, “The earth is the LORD’S and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” This is a good foundation as we begin our stewardship theme for this next year. All belongs to God. Everything. We belong to God. John Calvin phrased this as “I am not my own.” It is because we belong that we believe.
Maybe, Zacchaeus had an inkling. He was trying to see. But there were obstacles impeding his sight. What are some of these obstacles that we gain from our reading today?
He was a tax collector. Not only was he a tax collector, but a chief tax collector. What do we know about tax collectors? Chief tax collectors were known for colluding with Rome. In addition, they made the rules up as they went to collect what they could for themselves. I think a good analogy today would be a corrupt subprime mortgage lenders. With the power of mighty Rome and the self-corruption of self interest, Zacchaeus faced a large obstacle.
He was rich. The gospel of Luke does not hold back from the obstacle of wealth. We recently struggled with one cannot serve both God and wealth, camels and eyes of needles, and woe to you who are rich verses. This is an obstacle.
He couldn’t see Jesus because of the crowd. Let’s think about that for a minute? As we frequently are called to be sent, called to share the good news, welcoming our neighbor, inviting the kids and families to M & M, packing our worship space for a Valentine Cabaret, and having a pastor who frequently is referring to the ‘Great Commission’ and that the co-and mission means that we are to participate right here in sharing the mission of Christ. Are we not trying to increase the crowds? What are we doing this for? Anyway, the crowds are an obstacle.
These are big obstacles, so what does he do? Back to our bear hunt, can’t get over it, can’t go around it, must do something different? So he runs. He climbs. He has the sense that there was something more. Something more he was trying to see.
It is no coincidence that we find ourself today with a tax collector after last weeks message of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The ‘glad I am not like them’ Pharisee-the one who wants the approval of the crowd, and the tax collector who is the outsider.
And we explored how we can relate to both. How the church can relate. And how the church can relate falling into the crowd. How the church can fall into saying the right things, putting on the right clothes, and showing up on Sunday to fit in the rest of the week like everyone else, life unchanged.
But not Zacchaeus. With his inkling that there was something more, he doesn’t fall into the sedentary crowd… He runs, and he climbs. He doesn’t worry about how this looks to the crowd.
Tree climbing. I live through this vicariously these days through two adventurous boys. As I see each one of you, we remember. Why? Because it’s there. Because we can. But there was a day this changed. Me no longer Tarzan and you no longer Jane. I no longer see a tree as an obstacle to be conquered, but rather find myself echoing wise words I am sure were passed on to my folks issuing caution and warnings—“don’t climb so high!” “Be careful.” , or most likely “Get down from there right now!.”
Tree climbing—definitely not safe. You are going to break your arm.
I like my feet on solid ground. It is much safer this way. And there is safety in numbers. Join the crowd. Safety with both feet planted on the ground and safety in numbers…
But not Zacchaeus—who runs ahead and climbs a sycamore tree to see. He runs and climbs to find that he is more than his profession. He runs and climbs to find he is more than his riches. He runs and climbs to find there is more than worrying about fitting into the crowd.
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.”
Friends, we are more than short in stature when we are standing in the presence of the Holy. For the Holy calls us out by name and says come down—I am coming over for dinner. I am present at your table. And what happens to Zacchaeus, however, is more than this personal relationship—more than a every man, woman, and child for themselves. It is not an evacuation model that is so predominant in what the crowd keeps trying to proclaim—where evacuation models are focused on a future salvation that removes individual and communal responsibility from the world. For salvation is now—in this life. For Jesus says, ‘today salvation has come to this house.’ Salvation has come to the whole house. There is transformation and healing to the whole person in the presence of Christ in the present. It is in the presence of Christ that salvation finds Zacchaeus and the whole community benefits.
And it is in salvation, Zacchaeus finds that he is—and was—good enough. A rich, short in stature, tax collecting outsider—is worthy.
We belong to God and we need Jesus. May we not fall into the crowd, but instead may we run, climb trees, and find ourselves in the presence of the holy at table. And may we find we are more than our work. May we find we are more than our possessions. And may we be like Zacchaeus and respond with generosity. For Zacchaues gives out of gratitude—he gives in response to what God has done. May we respond in all we do in response to our salvation. May we too share our gifts generously, with thanks. May we respond because we believe. For salvation has come upon this house. We believe. Amen