This post was supposed to be my sermon for January 18, 2015. We had to cancel worship due to bad icing on the roads and sidewalks so I’m offering it here. Before reading on, please read Luke 19:1-10 so you have some context.
Just like we read last week 1, in this passage Jesus heads up to Jerusalem. Unlike the last week’s story, when Jesus was an emerging adolescent, this time he went to the city as an adult. In fact, he was going up to the city as a well-known religious figure who was surrounded by crowds wherever he went. Jesus was so well-known, in fact, that when he passed through Jericho even a tax-collector named Zacchaeus wanted to see him.
It was an unusual desire. Remember, tax collectors were seen as collaborators with a foreign occupation – and the money they earned was the amount they collected over what Rome required them to bring in. People saw them as immoral crooks because, really, that’s what they were.
Of the three things know three things about Zacchaeus, two of them tell us a whole lot about his character as a person. We know he was a “wee little man,” which is only a physical description, but we also know that he was a head tax collector who happened to be wealthy. Remember how tax collectors made money? Yah, by pillaging their own people. How good was he at his job? Well, not only was he a crook who was placed in charge of the other crooks – he was so good at his corrupt job that he was quite well-off.
And yet, this man wanted to see Jesus. Why? I don’t know 2. What I do know that that someone in his position could expect nothing but condemnation from the religious figures of his day – but he wanted to see Jesus anyway.
Unfortunately, because the rabbi was surrounded by a crowd, Zacchaeus, couldn’t catch a glimpse of him. Rather than giving up, though, he went ahead along the path and climbed a sycamore tree 3. It’s interesting that Zacchaeus would put himself in such an exposed position. Perhaps he thought he could hide among the branches as the crowd went by, but it wasn’t happening. In fact, it seems going up into the tree made this “wee little man” 4 even more visible.
When our Lord walked under Zacchaeus, position he looked up and saw the tax collector. It was a moment of truth, you can almost sense the crowd pause in anticipation. What would the great rabbi do with this notorious tax collector?
Then, as the Gospels so often do, the story takes an unexpected turn. You see, up to this point we experienced the tale from Zacchaeus’ point of view. We feel his need to see Jesus. In verse 5 the vantage point changes to our Lord’s perspective, and once it does we discover it was Jesus actually needed to see Zacchaeus! Our Lord looked up, saw the tax-collector in the tree and said, and say it with me, “Zacchaeus… you come down!” Jesus, in fact, implies he had a divinely scheduled appointment – he says, “I need to come to your house.” 5 So Zacchaeus came down from the tree, and joyfully brought Jesus into his home – it was a very expected turn of events..
As often happened when Jesus did something unexpected, however, when he went off the Zacchaeus people grumbled 6. Jesus knowingly went into the home of a notorious sinner. In so doing, his culture believed that he was acquiescing to Zacchaeus’ sin! They couldn’t believe it. The very idea was scandalous – rabbis were supposed to keep people away from sinners like Zacchaeus, their only role in religion was supposed to be as a negative example! What on earth did Jesus think he was doing?
Well, the text leads us to believe Zacchaeus was well aware of the grumbling people were doing. And, when faced with the reputation of his guest taking a huge hit by associating with him, he did what a good host was supposed to do. He protected the honor of his guest, and did the only way he could. Zacchaeus repented.
He stood up and publicly declared he would give away half his possessions to the poor, and repay 4 times the amount he defrauded anyone. This was way over what would have been expected of him by his culture, or even by Scripture (general consensus at the time was 20% to the poor was an appropriate amount to show repentance 7, and in Scripture profit through fraud requires only 1/5 the amount stolen added to the repayment cost 8). Zacchaeus stepped up and, in response, Jesus declared a sinner restored.
Jesus didn’t deny Zacchaeus was a sinner who needed to repent – he knew exactly who this tax collector was when he invited himself over to his house. Yet, when Zacchaeus repented and offered to pay recompense for his misdeeds all Jesus could do is affirm him. Salvation came to his house, for Zacchaeus was also a child of Abraham – one to whom the promises of God had been passed down.
This story, thanks to that song, is fixed in the minds of many Christians – but I do think we sometimes miss it’s point. You see, our kiddie song could lead us to imagine Zacchaeus was not all that bad. I mean how can you picture someone described as a “wee little man”as major villain material? 9 But folks, Zacchaeus was bad. He acquired so much wealth in his dirty profession paying it back necessitated going way above the minimum to make it sacrificial. When Jesus went to his house he was hanging out with the wrong crowd – it was a scandalous move. Sure, we could say that Jesus knew Zacchaeus was going to repent so it wasn’t like he was really hanging out with “sinners,” but that’s an easy out. This passage is quite clear Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ because he was lost, not because he was all but found.
We in the church need to remember this. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, not the found or the basically ok. Church has become the place where “respectable people” hang out, but sometimes I wonder if our Savior isn’t hanging out somewhere else. Maybe we need to look for the wrong people in our lives and be Christ among them – sowing seeds of grace, love, and forgiveness. It doesn’t mean we have to “be ok” with everything people do with their lives 10, that’s silly. What it means for us is a question, “If Jesus came to seek and save the lost, how many ‘lost people’ are really part of our lives?” Who will God reach through us, if we keep preaching to the choir? Amen.
- Luke 2: 41-51 ↩
- He’s on third. ↩
- For the Lord he wanted to see. ↩
- I will get that song stuck in all your heads ↩
- It’s the type of language Jesus tends to use to show an action was his Father’s will. ↩
- I actually had a image of “Grumble Grumble!” from the original Zelda for his part. Canceling worship is often disappointing on many levels. ↩
- I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: a Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 697. ↩
- Four times the amount was the specified repayment for fraud when animals were involved (see Exodus 22:1), but not more general fraudulent gain. ↩
- No, “Mini Me” does not count, it’s a spoof. Also, “Mini Me” is more evil than Dr. Evil. This was not in the original sermon, by the way. ↩
- And, really, we shouldn’t be “OK” with everything we do in or own lives either. ↩