Port Colden United Methodist Church
Text: Luke 19:1-10 (NRSV)
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 up 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.”
Imagine that you’re standing in the crowd that was waiting for Jesus as he came into the city of Jericho. You had heard about this teacher, this prophet, this healer who had done miraculous signs and you couldn’t wait to catch a glimpse as you heard that Jesus was going to be passing through. When Jesus finally arrives, you see him talking to some people when all of a sudden Jesus calls to someone who appears to be sitting in a nearby tree. As you see a shadowy figure make their way down to Jesus, you realize that it’s “that person.” “That person” who has always been a thorn in your side…. “That person” who hurt you, let you down, who wasn’t there when you really needed them the most…. “That person” who don’t want anything to do with.
We all have someone like that in our lives, our own “Zacchaeus.” Perhaps if we begin to dig deep within ourselves we might discover that even have more than one! So it becomes all the more difficult, maybe even painful, when we see Jesus talking to the one who we labeled as being a “sinner.” So we begin to “murmur,” we begin to question. How could Jesus eat with someone who caused me so much pain, who wronged me without seeming to give it a second thought? And then how could Jesus say this person has been saved? I thought that Jesus was supposed to be a holy prophet, the Son of God! So how could it be that Jesus would willingly sit down with some like that?
It’s surprising how much detail is given about Zacchaeus in the Gospel According to Luke. For one Zacchaeus is named. And not only do we know Zacchaeus’ name, but we also know his occupation as a chief tax collector and that he was apparently in short stature. As a chief tax collector, we can assume that Zacchaeus had a collection of material wealth that set him apart from the rest of the community, and judging by the reaction of some of the people in the crowd, some of his wealth might not have come about by honest means. So maybe we can see ourselves as members standing in the crowd in the city of Jericho. Maybe we can relate to the murmuring and discontentment of those who saw Jesus going to eat with Zacchaeus who was someone who they labeled as a sinner.
It’s so easy in our day of age to label those we don’t like as “sinners” or “outcasts.” I don’t know how many of you use social media such as Facebook, but you know that all you have to do is scroll down to quickly find people sharing articles or stories about how “this” group of people or “that” group of people are either wrong or just plain bad. Often it is easy for us to have our vision get clouded by the own understanding of what our reality should be life. It’s often easy for us to forget that our vision for the world does not often match the vision and plan that God has. As we see in our reading for today the people in the crowd were not expecting Jesus to sit and eat with Zacchaeus, but with God what we expect is often not the path that God has in mind.
When we look at our text this morning we realize that there is an underlying tension of two equally true realities. Because even though we can see ourselves as being wronged like the people in the crowd, we can also see ourselves as Zacchaeus who was climbing tree and sat waiting for Jesus to come with the hope that maybe he would be able to talk to the one who offered salvation that and grace that was transformative. We hold these things in tension because we realize that the world we live in is not as neat and tidy as we would like it to be. We hold these things in tension because we realize that we have at some point acted in an unjust way against our neighbors.
We climbed a tree to try and see Jesus in order to change the way that we see the world around us. We climbed the tree as people who have been unjust to others, and as people who have been labeled as “sinner” or an outcast by those in our communities. And in this messiness of life, we hoped that by changing our perspective, we would be able to catch a glimpse of hope that challenges us to reshape our understanding of the world around us. When we finally get to the top we see Jesus coming as to help us along our journey as we try and navigate the challenges that we face on a daily basis.
And we certainly need to climb the tree in order to change our point of view from time to time. In the midst of family chaos, church politics, and turbulent relationships, sometimes we need to catch a peek of Jesus anyway we can in order to get us through. Certainly, this election cycle has been an example of the chaos and messiness that can often bog us down and keep us, allowing our hearts to be open to the transformative love that Jesus offers. The fiery rhetoric, name calling, and even the division between friends and family are all ways in which we begin to lose sight of the grace that God offers to every single one of us.
It is easy for us to stand in the crowd and murmur as we Jesus, offering grace and transformative salvation to those we deem “unworthy.” But what is difficult, what is hard, is to have the courage to climb up the tree, knowing that we are not perfect, knowing that we being judged, in order to have the opportunity be changed by Jesus in a way that is life altering. And that’s the thing about the Kingdom of God. When we think that we have things all figured out Jesus manages to find a way into our hearts and minds and turn our world upside-down. As we come to the end of another cycle of American gloom-and-doom prophecy, we can hear the voice of Jesus calling out to us with a voice of hope saying, “Hurry and come down!”
As Zacchaeus makes his way down from the tree to the place where Jesus was I wonder what was going through his mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if could hear the grumbling of the people in the crowd and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were giving him nasty looks. But as he comes before Jesus, we can see that something has happened. As he comes before Jesus, we can see that something inside of Zacchaeus has been changed, reshaped, and reformed. In the presence of everyone in the crowd and in front of Jesus, Zacchaeus opens his heart and says to Jesus, “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.” It is clear that Zacchaeus has expressed a willingness to be open to the grace and love that only Christ is able to give.
This morning some churches will be celebrating something known as Reformation Sunday. As someone who is a Presbyterian, this means that this is a time that we are able to celebrate where we have come from, where we are now, and where we are going. It is also a time in which we are able to remember that God is always active in the redeeming and renewing of creation. This means that as we stand in the crowd, we forget that Jesus is able to transform us in ways that we could never possibly imagined. This means that when we climb up into a tree to change our perspective of the world we might find more than we bargained for because Jesus works in ways that we don’t expect.
After Zacchaeus confessed and repented in front of the crowd to Jesus, Jesus turned to Zacchaeus and said, “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.” And isn’t this the good news of Jesus Christ? That even in the chaos, the messiness, the pain, the suffering of this world, there is a God who is continually working to redeem and reshape us in a way that allows us to live a faithful life that truly reflects the image of God. And isn’t it the good news of Jesus Christ that we are all afforded the same opportunity of love and grace because we are children of the living God?
But allowing ourselves to be open to the transforming love and grace of God doesn’t mean we will become perfect human beings. We may still find ourselves occasionally standing among the crowd as we bitterly murmur against those who we view as being sinful. And even if we find ourselves being transformed by Jesus, this doesn’t mean that we will stop or should stop climbing up a tree like Zacchaeus in order that we might catch a new glimpse of what it means to live a life of grace and to see the grace of God in those we meet.
The unfolding narrative that God has laid out is one that challenges our perspective of how the world around us is supposed to operate. Yet we find that time and time again as we are constantly surprised at how Jesus touches our hearts and minds and how he touches the hearts and minds of those around us. As we start another week may keep our eyes open to the ways in which God calls us to be participants in the story of creation and open to the ways in which we go out and treat those who we meet along our journey of life and faith.
Would you please pray with me… Holy God, we find ourselves living in tension with the pains that we experience throughout the week and the grace that you seem to freely give to all. As we do meditate upon your holy Word, may your Spirit be with us throughout the week as we strive to be participants in your work here on earth. And may your Spirit opens our eyes to see the many ways in which your grace touches each and every one of us. Amen.