"The Trials of Being Zacchaeus"
Luke 19:1-10, 30 October 2016
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
East Rochester and West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
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.”
There are occasions
For all serious students of scripture
When something new appears
That so alters the way we think about a passage
That shakes faith and challenges us to the core.
Could this “something new”
Be a gift from God?
Often times, in my experience, it is.
Behold, the Spirit makes all things new.
Pastor Lida forwarded to me this past week
An academic article suggesting that Zacchaeus’ stature may have
Entailed more than just being short.
There are linguistic hints that the author of Luke
Is suggesting that Zacchaeus was,
In fact, someone who looked like this:
An individual with dwarfism;
Most probably, a genetic disorder
That limited his height to under 4 feet 10 inches,
That he exhibited disproportionate body features,
And that Zacchaeus was one who almost certainly
Suffered from social discrimination all his life.
Consider the implications of Zacchaeus being disabled;
Or, as I like to say it,
He was a person with different abilities?
How does this alter the way
We experience the Gospel this morning?
What if that song of old
We learned in Sunday School
Or in Vacation Bible School
Would be rewritten like this?
Zacchaeus was a discriminated man,
an ostracized man was he,
And he climbed up in a sycamore tree,
for he wanted the Lord to see,
for he wanted the Lord to see.
And as the Savior passed that way,
he looked up in the tree.
And he said, "Zacchaeus! you come down,
for I'm going to your house to stay."
"For I'm going to your house to stay."
As opposed to other encounters
Jesus has with people of different abilities,
Jesus does not make an attempt to cure Zacchaeus.
Jesus doesn’t try to “stretch him out,”
“lengthen him up,”
Or “right size him,” as it were.
Today’s encounter with Jesus
Requires a deeper contemplation of faith, ability,
And our relationship with God.
Behold, the Spirit makes all things new.
Let’s take a closer look at Luke 19:1-10.
The Zacchaeus story immediately follows the
Story of the rich young ruler
(Who desired to follow Jesus,
Found the requirements too difficult,
And decided to walk away disappointed).
It also follows the story
Of Jesus restoring sight to a blind beggar
Who loudly asked to have his sight back.
Once his sight was restored,
The former blind man followed Jesus,
Becoming a recognized celebrity.
The newly healed man became a catalyst for faith:
“and all the people,
When they saw it,
- Luke 18:43b
Jesus entered Jericho
And was passing through it,
Down the north / south main thoroughfare.
Jericho was, and is, known as a City of Palms,
An oasis in the gravel desert
Watered by Elisha’s Spring;
Carefully channeled via aqueducts
From the surrounding mountains to the west.
The palm trees that line the streets are beautiful.
In the center of Jericho today is a small park
With a Zacchaeus tree in it,
An overgrown fig palm tree that is thousands of years old.
(Let that sink in for a moment).
Jesus is en-route from Galilee in the north,
To Jerusalem, straight uphill to the west, as the crow flies
14 miles away,
Or 30 miles by the treacherous, switch back, serpentine road.
People who are “short in stature”
(as Luke reports it)
Get picked on all the time;
Probably discriminate against
Just as many are today.
Offensive words today, such as “midget”
Would have had an ancient counterpart.
I’m jumping to an assumption here,
But my guess is that a lifetime
Of ridicule, bullying, exclusion, and discrimination
Had probably left some emotional scars on Zacchaeus
And left him bitter;
Which would be ironic,
Because his name, from the Greek, means “pure” and “innocent.”
This would be like the grumpiest person you know
Being named “Joy.”
Luke describes Zacchaeus as being
Not only a tax collector,
But the Chief Tax Collector.
Remember from last Sunday’s Gospel,
Tax collectors were hated as traitors and as extortionists?
Zacchaeus was the boss;
The head of them all.
This tells us that he was rich,
For he skimmed off the top of all his subordinates,
And, being a public figure,
That he was universally despised by all of his neighbors.
Zacchaeus was ambitious with his career.
He was at the top of his pay scale.
And he was rich.
For a moment
Hold in dynamic tension
The wealth of Zacchaeus
With that of the rich young ruler.
With the same determination
That overcame a lifetime of almost certain ridicule,
That propelled him to the top of his corporate ladder,
Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd
That had come out to see Jesus with
His traveling healing tour and salvation show.
He ran ahead.
He climbed into an overgrown fig palm
And perched himself above the road in the branches.
Consider how ridiculous he must has looked.
He didn’t care what other people thought.
His emotional calluses would have been much too thick.
He had power and money
And he’d come to see Jesus.
Talk about creative and expedient!
There is no wonder Jesus was stopped dead in his tracks.
He looked up,
Calls Zachaeus by name
(by the way, how did Jesus know his name?),
And invites himself over to his house
Right in front of a certainly flabbergasted crowd.
The crowd knows the sinful trade of the tax collecting community.
They would have been scandalized
That Jesus invites himself
To the home of the chief sinner.
As an uncomfortable hush descended upon the crowd,
Zacchaeus “hurried down and was happy to welcome him.”
The haste and happiness is quite a contrast with the response of
The rich young ruler.
This is the third-time Jesus
Has chosen to eat with a tax collector
And the third time people have grumbled about it.
One would think,
Jesus of all people,
Would want to separate himself from sinners,
Jesus was sent to the world to eat with
And relate to sinners.
Oh, the scandal of the Gospel!
Instead of walking away sad,
Zacchaeus responds with exuberance!
I will give away half of my possessions to the poor, he promises.
On top of that,
Zacchaeus vows to pay back four times
Anyone who he had defrauded,
Which is double the requirement of Jewish Law.
Zacchaeus is eagerly willing to work to overcome poverty
(Much of which Zacchaeus is personally responsible for creating).
And he is willing to make reparations
To everyone who he has treated unjustly.
Zacchaeus is willing to give up nearly everything
To be saved from his sin,
To be reunited to his family as a child of Abraham, and
To be found by God.
Jesus’ mission has been fulfilled,
“to seek out and to save the lost.”
Are you willing to give up nearly everything?
I don’t know about you,
But I am.
What can we learn from Zacchaeus
That we can apply to our lives today?
First, Zacchaeus was determined.
Dare we exercise our discipleship
With the same amount of determination?
Can we race ahead of the crowd?
Can we risk the embarrassment of climbing up over the crowd?
Can we deploy the same amount of determination to lift Jesus up
For all the world to see and learn from Him?
Where is the Lord in today’s world?
The fact is
Most of the world has never seen Jesus
And wouldn’t know him if they bumped into one of his disciples.
Be determined to produce Jesus
And to wear Him on your sleeve.
Secondly, Zacchaeus was expedient.
One of my favorite lines from the movie Gettysburg
Is by Robert E. Lee confronting the overdue General Jeb Stuart.
When Jeb Stuart sees that his delay
May have very well cost Lee the battle
He offers to step down from his command.
"There is no time!!!" Lee thunders.
Zacchaeus knew there was precious little time to see the Savior;
That's why he ran ahead.
There is no time for us to waste, either.
We must offer Christ to our world
With all his grace, love, forgiveness, and salvation
- a world desperately searching for what Christ has to offer -
- before it is too late
And even one is lost before we had a chance.
Thirdly, Zacchaeus is amazingly creative.
He broke the social standard,
Made a fool of himself;
Yet, his creativity stopped the Lord dead in his tracks.
So too, we need to be just as creative.
What new ways can we use to present Christ to the world?
How can we better share the Good News
Of his redemption and salvation?
Technologically? theatrically? artistically? with audio-visuals?
I disdain rap;
However, look at what has happened
When rap was set to a Broadway show named “Hamilton”.
The creative genius of a writer
Turned Broadway upside down
And pulled the Arts from the Culture section of the paper
To the front page.
Fourthly, Zacchaeus was willing to repent
And so should we;
On a regular basis.
Although the story doesn't specifically mention it,
It is quite easy for us to make the assumption that Zacchaeus,
By his actions,
Came to repentance:
Acknowledging his sin and
Swearing to make a 180-degree change in his life.
We, like Zacchaeus,
Are invited to acknowledge before God
The instances we have sinned,
And to make every attempt to correct our behavior
Such that we don’t sin again.
Lastly, Zacchaeus can teach us about the value of reparation.
Reparation is not a popular topic
Especially when spoken of in the context
Of U.S. politics,
Of American slavery,
Or Native American resettlement.
The Gospel suggests that we tread carefully, however.
Pay attention to Zacchaeus, what he says and what he does.
The disciple of Jesus
Must be willing to make reparations
For prior offences;
Amends and repayments
For prior acts of injustice.
When we have made a mistake –
- when we have sinned –
- it is our duty as a follower of Jesus Christ –
- as a Christian –
To do like Zacchaeus,
And do the right thing.
Suck it up and make it right with those who were harmed.
As a witness to our Lord and Savior,
Let us dare to go the second mile,
To go beyond merely making it right.
Let us repay doubly the loss
When another has been hurt
As a result of our sin.
Our efforts must not only fix the world
But they must improve the world.
Zacchaeus was no wee little man.
Zacchaeus was a child of Abraham,
Who acted with determination,
To fix and improve that which he had broken.
Today salvation came to Zacchaeus and his house.
Go and do likewise.
Invite salvation into your house, too.
Today, Zacchaeus was found.
Go and allow the Lord to find you, too.