Jesus and ZacchaeusLuke 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 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.”
This past week, I had to go to the assessor’s office in the town where I live. I laughed to myself as I walked through the door and saw the sign on the desk that read Tax Collector. I knew that we would be reflecting on the story of Zacchaeus today, and I also know that the Tax Collector title carries quite a bit of drama with it. But, I have to say, the woman at the assessor’s office couldn’t have been more kind. She went out of her way to help me, and she did far more than I think her job required her to.
Now, tax collectors don’t always have the best reputation. I know because, growing up, my grandmother was the tax collector in the city where I lived. The assumptions that people made about her, were crazy. Her house was even broken into several times because people thought she took the tax money home with her. Now I’ll be honest, my grandmother was not the warmest or friendliest person I have ever known, but she wasn’t a liar or a cheat either.
Yes, she sent out tax bills and collected money for the city, but that was her job. She was good with numbers; she was responsible, and she was very organized. And sometimes I wonder if her tough personality simply came from years and years of the way people judged and treated her.
Folks let’s take a minute with that first box and think about what it might feel like if day after day people disliked and judged you. (PAUSE)
Well, there is a story about another tax collector, named Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus always had a bad reputation. The people in Jericho hated Zacchaeus because he was the chief tax collector. Now it is true, back in Jesus’ day, there were many tax collectors that skimmed off the top and became rich by stealing from their own people. And growing up, that was the story that I had always been told about Zacchaeus. But you know what? There is nowhere in scripture that states that Zacchaeus was anything but honest. Sure, the crowds said terrible things about him because his job was collecting taxes. And tax collectors in Jesus’s time were often despised as traitors because they worked for the Roman Empire and not for their Jewish communities. Zacchaeus was also rich, which the people didn’t like. Now, it is possible that he was rich because he was dishonest, or maybe because he was just good with numbers and he managed his own money well.
In scripture, the crowds shouted terrible things about him, saying that he was a sinner, but they also judged and made fun of him because he was short in stature. So, let’s put all the judgments and finger-pointing aside for just a minute and try to look at what happened that day through the eyes of Jesus.
When Jesus came to Jericho that day, scripture says that there was a crowd waiting for him to arrive. Zacchaeus was there too, and he was so excited to see this Jesus that he had heard about, he climbed a sycamore tree to get a better look. Now if he had really only cared about money, I would think he would simply let Jesus walk by, but he didn’t. Zacchaeus got excited to see Jesus, so excited that he did whatever he needed to do to see him.
I like to think that when Jesus walked by that day, he looked up in the tree and saw Zacchaeus’ big smile, smiling down at him. Jesus saw the excitement and desire in Zacchaeus’ eyes and so he called to him saying, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So, Zacchaeus hurried down and was more than happy to welcome Jesus.
Now the crowds? They were not happy with this at all. They all began to grumble and complain, and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to Jesus, “Look, half of my possessions, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Now, knowing numbers as Zacchaeus did, I’m sure that he would never make a promise to bankrupt himself like that if he had truly been dishonest.
But really, the actual money had nothing to do with what transpired that day. Jesus had come to help those who were lost and those who were seeking his help. When Jesus saw how excited Zacchaeus was, when he saw the hope in his eyes and the longing for new possibilities in his smile, Jesus quickly reached out to help him.
Friends, Jesus comes to help those who are lost and in need of guidance–not the ninety-nine who grumble and complain and think they don’t need help, not the Pharisees or the righteous ones who pray, “I thank you, God, that I am not like those people.” Folks, today it’s not the money or the gossip or the size of Zacchaeus that I want us to focus on; it’s his excitement. When Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was coming, he didn’t just stand in the crowd and wait. Scripture says, “He ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him.” Zacchaeus was excited! He longed to know Jesus, and this was his chance.
Friends, I wonder, when was the last time that you were excited to know Jesus? I mean, we spend time in worship and prayer, we sing and we do our regular “praising of God.” But are we truly excited about Jesus? Are we longing to spend time with him? Do we get jazzed to follow him? Or are we just standing there in the crowd, watching as he passes by, and grumbling and complaining about who Jesus decides to spend time and eat dinner with?
Friends let’s take a moment with that second sermon box. Take a minute and really think about what makes you excited about your faith. (PAUSE)
Folks, many times, people–especially those who attend worship on a regular basis–tend to think that they are on “the good list,” that they have made the connection, that they have God on their side, and they are in like Flynn (as the saying goes). But the truth is, God doesn’t make naughty and nice lists. God doesn’t keep track of our good decisions and our poor ones. God doesn’t play favorites. And God doesn’t gossip and point out the things that are weak and lacking in others.
Folks, sometimes we misunderstand others when we make assumptions. We listen to labels that society has put on people, and we judge them, without getting to know them. We think that WE know what is right and wrong, and we put people in different groups in our minds because of it, when all that Jesus does is love them!
Zacchaeus was so excited when Jesus saw and acknowledged him in the tree at the side of the road because Jesus saw him as a human being, not as a short person or a tax collector, or a sinner, just as someone who was longing to be connected and included and loved.
Friends, in the week ahead, I encourage you to find or reconnect with the things that excite you about your faith, being assured that Jesus sees you, acknowledges you, and most importantly loves you, just as you are!
May it be so, thanks be to God. Amen.