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)
Last week we heard about the tax collector who was praying in the temple and how God accepts honest prayers over those who pray so everyone can see how religious and good they are.
This week we hear about another tax collector. Zacchaeus was a tax collector – a very rich tax collector.
Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector for the Roman government, and probably the most hated man in all of Jericho. He was considered a traitor to his own people. He made money off his neighbors; he collected taxes above what was required by Rome and kept the rest.
Who would make room for him in a crowd?
Who would want to be seen with him?
But he had heard about Jesus – that man who was going around the country preaching and teaching God’s love for EVERYONE. And he was curious. . . he wondered who this man was and why he called the dregs of society to himself.
But Zacchaeus was a very short man – very short. Someone you could never find in a crowd – so short that he couldn’t even see over the shoulders of people in front of him. And that was a problem; how would he ever be able to see this Jesus when he came to town? Crowds were gathering, much like people watching a parade. . . and he could not see.
But, Zacchaeus found a solution:
- Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
A wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree For the Lord he wanted to see;
And as the Savior passed that way,
He looked up in the tree,
“Zacchaeus you come down For I’m going to your house today.
Zacchaeus you come down For I’m going to your house today
For I’m going to your house today.” (sung)
As Jesus passed by, He looked up in the tree and saw Zacchaeus – and told him to come down because he was going to eat with him that day. . . what an amazing thing. Jesus, the Son of God, was going to eat with a tax collector! Needless to say, the righteous citizens of Jericho were not pleased that Jesus had chosen a SINNER to share a meal with.
But we know from Bible stories that Jesus was always meeting and eating with those that society had thrown away or considered unworthy – prostitutes, criminals, lepers, and EVEN tax collectors.
Zacchaeus instantly confessed his sins to Jesus – his greed and overcharging of the people of Jericho. In fact, we hear that he not only is going to give half of all his possession to the poor but also promises to repay those he cheated four times what he owed them. He had a complete transformation of his life. He was changed forever when he met Jesus.
And we, too, are changed forever when we call upon Jesus, when we come out of the tree and allow Jesus to touch us. Jesus enables us really to see, to see real people with real needs, real opportunities to get involved. We see true beauty in others. We see the multitude of gifts God has given us and our community.
Zacchaeus was forever changed from a taker into a giver. And Zacchaeus is not unique. We see it over and over again. When Jesus finds a home with us, the result is a generous heart. Giving is a joy, not a burden.
What’s given may be money, may be time, may be some ability that can be shared. But time and time again, when Jesus plucks us out of our tree, we become givers, not takers; workers, not watchers; people who serve, not observe.
Jesus isn’t just coming to In The Garden.
- Jesus is already here.
And he is looking down at us, inviting us out of our safe, but lonely perch, and into the kingdom of God.
Are we going to come down out of the tree?
Are we going to let Jesus come to our house?
Are we going to let Jesus into our hearts?
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 3 November 2013