All Saints Sunday
Quote: Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone
Luke 19:1 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.”
Maybe how we look at this story depends on how we answer a question. It’s just a detail but it could change our perspective. When Zacchaeus speaks about his financial decisions is it a promise of what he WILL do in response to his encounter with Jesus? Or is he saying what he is doing right now?
Jesus is nearing the end of his journey to Jerusalem. He is passing through the border town of Jericho where Zachaeus lives. His face is “set towards Jerusalem” (Luke 9:53) but he is not so preoccupied with his own fate that He doesn’t take time to notice others.
The name “Zacchaeus” comes from the Greek “zakchaios,” which means “pure” or “righteous.” Zacchaeus is not just a tax collector, he is a chief tax collector so he is very rich. The meaning of his name seems ironic and maybe some in the crowd notice this.
So let’s take this well known little story apart.
One detail is that sight is important.
We need to take a little side trip to see how this fits together.
Luke 19:1-10 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
Luke pairs two stories that both take place in Jericho. When we look at them together they compliment each other. One is about a disabled man who is poor and blind but though blind, he is able to see things others do not including his own desperate condition and the power of Jesus Christ. He cries out for Jesus to have mercy on him. Zacchaeus is rich and not disabled, just small, He has heard of this Jesus and climbs a tree to see him over the crowd but he is silent when Jesus approaches.
Another detail is wealth. In the previous chapter in Luke, a rich ruler sadly chooses his wealth over following Jesus. In contrast, Zacchaeus receives Jesus with joy and promises to give half his wealth to the poor and to restore fourfold the money he defrauded people out of and Jesus announces salvation has come to this house.
A third detail is that Zacchaeus is short, physically – but also, as far as his community is concerned he is short on morals. Partly because of his stature and now because of his profession, Zacchaeus has been looked down on all his life. The crowd reaction when Jesus singled him out was to grumble. This is not the first time that bystanders have been angry about Jesus’ behavior. Back in Luke 7:39 when a woman who was known to live a sinful life washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and her hair at a dinner he was having with the pharisees, Jesus responded to the grumbling of the pharisees with the parable of forgiven debt and told the woman she was forgiven. Just last week we heard the story of two men praying – a tax collector and a Pharisee where it was the tax collector who went home justified.
So what does all this mean with the question of whether Zacchaeus has done or is doing something with his money?
The easiest interpretation would be to say that it is describing future behavior. Zacchaeus has this encounter with Jesus which causes him to change his behavior which Jesus acknowledges. It fits with how we understand things to work.. We repent, then we are forgiven. That when Jesus shows up, the impossible happens. That repentance should include everything in our lives including our finances as well as our heart change. AND..All those things are true.
But sometimes it seems like the bible says one thing on the surface and yet allows for us to slow down and wander and wonder a bit and maybe challenge the assumptions we make when we first read a text.
So let’s look at the text a little closer. Zacchaeus does not make a confession of sin. He does not repent. He does not ask for mercy. We can make the assumption that since he is pledging his money that he repents but unlike the praying tax collector who asked God to have mercy on him, a sinner, Zacchaeus’ repentance remains an assumption WE make. Jesus merely pronounces a blessing based not on anything Zacchaeus has done, but simply because he is an Israelite just like the people around him who are grumbling. Zacchaeus doesn’t seem to offer to pay everyone back or give his money to the poor because of anything Jesus said. In fact it almost seems like more of a response to the crowd. Maybe it’s a response to the presence of Jesus. Again, it is left to us to make the assumption.
So at first reading this is the perfect conversion story. But what if it is also the story of all the possibilities that exist in the presence of Jesus. So much of the story seems impossible. That a chief tax collector would want to see Jesus. That Jesus would want to stay at his home. That this sinner Zacchaeus would go above and beyond the law with his generosity. That Jesus would say that not just Zacchaeus but his whole household had salvation.
Maybe Zacchaeus represents the first and most important start for all disciples of Jesus – a persistent desire to see Him and a transformational joy when we are in His presence! Rather than a formula of steps of repentance and forgiveness the story takes the miracle of salvation and shows it as a promise that anyone who truly wants to see Jesus will – even if they have to go to all kinds of lengths to do so. More than just seeing Jesus, they will be seen by Jesus and THAT is joy.
If we read the story of Zacchaeus as a story of the desire to see and be seen by Jesus, then we can then look around us and ask ourselves who both in our church and everywhere else we go as we live out our lives, has been left out, too short to see over the heads of the crowd, too different in the way they live, who might just want to see Jesus and who might surprise us by their generosity and faith… and if we allow ourselves to ask these questions, we might see Jesus and Zacchaeus and ourselves in a completely different way. Maybe like the blind man, we will be able to see things with more than our eyes.
What would it mean to us if Jesus spoke to us while we were up a tree?
What would it be like to be looked down on all your life and then have Jesus look up at you and see you for the creation you are, made in God’s image?
What would it have been like for Zacchaeus to have Jesus look up and speak his name showing that Jesus knows HIM inside and out and he can’t pretend to be anything but who he is and Jesus doesn’t just see him and speak his name but treats him as a friend!
A little detail in this text, Jesus says He MUST stay at Zacchaeus’ house. That implies that God planned this encounter – that it wasn’t an accident.
In the passage about the blind man who received his sight from Jesus. a physical healing took place. In the story of Zacchaeus, since we have to make so many assumptions anyway, what if we make one more.
Maybe Zacchaeus who has always been looked down on because he is a small man, became hardened and that was part of the reason he chose his profession. Suppose he felt little compassion for all those who had treated him as less because of his height, something he had no control over. Suppose when Jesus looked up at this man who had climbed a tree to see him, he saw someone with a deep wound that was invisible because it was a wound of the spirit but a wound that was disabling none the less.
So if we look at two stories – the story of a blind beggar and the story of Zacchaeus, we see two very different people, two very different healings, and in both cases, the men received salvation but it looked very different outwardly.
In the first, a beggar who’s eyes didn’t work and yet was able to recognize the power of Jesus Christ, was physically healed and now able to join society as a productive member and he and those who witnessed the healing, glorified God. In the second, a spiritual healing took place and a rich man pledged his wealth to the poor and to make amends for everyone he had taken advantage of, and because of that, his entire household received salvation.
If we can take these stories that we have heard all of our lives and look beyond the obvious we can find layers of hope for healing, for salvation, for seeing and being seen by Jesus no matter who we are or where we are in life.
These stories of all those who have gone before us, facing struggles, disabilities, unfair treatment, who encountered Christ and were forever changed strengthen our own faith that we too can see and be seen by Jesus.
Maybe these stories are all about the impossible possibilities that exist when Jesus shows up.