This is a sermon from November 3rd 2013. It is based on Luke 19:1-20—the story of Zaccheaus trying to see Jesus.
Let’s begin by looking at the story of Zacchaeus. Jesus is travelling to Jericho. You can imagine big crowds gathering to see Jesus. The roads become clogged with people all trying to see him, talk to him, touch him. And Zacchaeus, being small person doesn’t have a hope of getting through. And so he looks around and decides the best thing to do is climb a tree. From up there he will be above the crowd and have a good view of everything that’s happening.
What do we know about Zacchaeus? We know he was a tax collector and we know he was wealthy. We can assume that he is Jewish and that he was collecting taxes on behalf of the Roman Empire. It was common practice for tax collectors to make their profit by collecting extra taxes (cheating people). Zaccheaus was someone who probably didn’t have many friends. The Romans would have had a working relationship with him but he would not have been accepted and welcomed in their community. The Jewish people might have seen him as collaborating with the enemy. He was not welcomed anywhere.
And Jesus finds interesting friends. He has a tendency to make connections with people that no one else wants around. This story is no different. With Zacchaeus sitting up in the tree, Jesus walks underneath looks up and says “I’m coming to your house.” Of all the places Jesus could choose to go, he chooses the person who is unwelcome on both the Roman and Jewish communities.
And so you can hear the crowds start to grumble. They start to talk about Zacchaeus: how much money he has, where it came from, maybe his family history. They also grumble and whisper about Jesus: Does he know who Zacchaeus is? Why would he visit Zaccaheus? Maybe someone should tell him who he is. Maybe someone should they stop him from going to visit Zaccheaus before he makes a fool out of himself.
And once a couple of people have decided that Jesus and Zaccheaus don’t go together most of the crowd gets in on the conversation. They already had an opinion about Zaccheaus and aren’t quite prepared to see things Jesus’ way just yet.
And in the midst of the crowd that has gathered according to many translations Zacchaeus says something along the lines of “I will give half of everything I own to the poor and I will repay four times what I’ve cheated.”
There’s another translation based on the fact this is the only place where the Greek phrases are in the present tense which David Lose says “Zacchaeus is boasting (probably in response to the grumbling of the crowd), “Look, half of my possessions I give to the poor…[and] I pay back four times” — as in right now, already, as a matter of practice.”
The Message puts it this way:
“Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?” Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.”
Does that change our perspective of Zacchaeus? Zacchaes is already doing what Jesus is teaching. Maybe the reason Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus is because he’s a big fan. Zacchaeus who is outcast from his community is already very intentional about doing the justices that he is capable of and which Jesus calls all of us to be about. Perhaps Zacchaeus wants to talk with Jesus so he can learn more about what else he can do to be just. Maybe he wants to strategize about taking the gospel farther. The point is that the meeting with Jesus did not transform Zacchaeus from a sinner into a righteous person. And we can identify people that we know personally in our community and people we know only by reputation who are wealthy and share that wealth with others.
But Jesus’ parting words to Zacchaeus are also important to us: “Salvation has come to this house.” Zacchaeus doesn’t give up being a tax collector but he does continue working at living in right ways. David Ewart writes that “salvation does not require, nor result in, perfection. Salvation in this lifetime is not about the end state. Salvation is the process, the healing and reconciling that is needed for creating right relationships.” Salvation is not a one time event but something that we continue to live into and struggle with throughout our lives. Zacchaeus was well on the path of salvation before he met Jesus and he continued figure out how to live faithfully within the context of his life. The reality is that as much as we strive to live lives of justice and compassion, none of us will ever have it down completely or do it perfectly. The crowd’s judgement on Zacchaeus reflects their own sense that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who live good lives and those who do not.
But how do we know who lives rightly? If none of live lives of love perfectly then how do we set those boundaries of who is worthy of our association and who is not? Part of what this particular scripture reminds us is that the boundaries we set are somewhat arbitrary and just like the crowd we have some choices to make about who is welcome and who is not.
There are a couple of options here:
- The crowd could change their opinion of Jesus and Jesus could become one of the outcasts along with Zacchaeus. At least Zacchaeus would have company. Jesus was willing to take this risk.
- The crowd could change their opinion of Zacchaeus. By association Jesus draws Zaccheaus into the community. Because Jesus is enthusiastic in his relationship with Zaccheaus, Zaccheaus would become a welcome member of the society – not because he is perfect, not because he lives every aspect of his life in the right way but because he is accepted by God as a child of Abraham for who he is at this moment.
When we think about our own homes and who we invite into them: we tend to invite people we know and like, people who are at least somewhat like ourselves. It is much easier to offer hospitality to those we suspect are similar in outlook and action than those who are obviously different from ourselves. This story reminds us that everyone of us has areas of our lives that we need to constantly be learning and growing in and that we are still loved by God and still worthy of being part of the community.
Sharing a meal or a home with someone is an intimate opportunity so it is easy to understand why we want to limit those experiences. Life is much simpler if we only associate with those we perceive as being good and yet Jesus challenges those assumptions and asks us to do the same.
Who are the people in Yorkton that might need to be welcomed? We have a gay community here in Yorkton and yet it is a very difficult community in which to be open about our sexual orientation. We have a large immigrant population with people from a wide variety of faiths and I have heard many expressions of fear towards other faiths. We have a large aboriginal population which, in many ways, tends to be segregated from the rest of the community.
Are we able to stretch the boundaries in our own faith community and lives? Are we willing to re-evaluate our own sense of right living knowing that others are trying as much as we are to live lives of love and compassion? Are we willing to take the risk that Jesus took in which we choose to be with people who are less welcome in our community? Are we willing to risk our own place in the community so that someone else will be welcomed?
And as we stretch those boundaries we need to always hold within our vision a conviction that we are all loved by God no matter where we are on our journey. If we can hold that conviction it will allow us to more easily stretch the boundaries of our welcome.
 David Lose. Dear Working Preacher. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1556