Jesus and Zacchaeus
19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.5 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.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 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.”9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
“Zaachaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he…“
I grew up listening to that song in Sunday school. It’s ingrained on my brainwaves. Our Gospel reading this morning, Luke 19:1-10, is about the story of Zaacheaus. And, I think we can find ourselves in this story. I know I can…there are times in my life when I’ve been curious, when I’ve wanted to see what’s going on…and have found myself being discovered, or discovering something about myself.
The writer of Luke wants its readers to see that Jesus brings a fundamental and transformational change of perspective on faith in order to understand what it means to be a “Son of Abraham” and consequently a part the Kingdom of God. This change not only recognizes that the salvation comes through Jesus’ recognition or calling out and a response from the hearer, in this case Zaacheus, but it also brings justice to an entire community as it breaks down the concept of what it means to be on the inside of a community versus on the outside. As we’ve said around Fleming Road UCC, we want to follow the example of Jesus and be an “outside-in” focused, or “community engaged” church.
Inviting others into friendship that are outside the church and bringing them into community. We want to be about including new people into community of this church and giving leadership roles and friendship.
By showing God’s love for those on the margins of society, the writer of Luke shows Jesus as being very generous and that invokes a response of gratitude as we’ve shared in other stories the past couple of weeks. Luke 19:1-10 gives a summary of Jesus’ ministry that Luke stresses which is that Jesus came to “seek and save the lost”. This passage shows the perspective of the Kingdom of God that Luke wants the reader to see and experience.
Throughout Luke, there is a central theme on “seeking and saving the lost” in preceding stories before Luke 19:1-10. Jesus’ perspective on what it means to be “in” or “out” is fundamentally different from what society at that time believed which is evident in the crowd’s “grumbling” (Luke 19:7) about Jesus’ desire to stay with Zacch who was considered a “sinner” and thus one who was ostracized to a certain degree in that society. Oftentimes in the church today, we can relate.
Luke wants the reader to see Jesus as a “universal redeemer”for all.
Jesus came to bring salvation to the world, everyone, not just Israel, and that the understanding of faith needed to be seen in a new way. This is a shift in thinking, and in practice. It means that all are “in” and no one is to be outside of God’s love.
Indeed, Luke’s gospel has even been referred to as the “Gospel of the Outcast”.
There are many stories in Luke where Jesus encounters those who would be considered outsiders by Jewish society, those who didn’t have Jewish heritage or follow Mosaic Law. Each time Jesus encounters someone marginalized, he sees something more in them than the culture of that time…he sees someone made in the image of God and created for relationship.
Luke 19:1-10 stresses the need to “see”.
In order to understand what it means to be “in” or a “Son of Abraham”, one has to see with their heart and mind and that seeing has to move towards present action. It also highlights the author’s intent for the reader to see what is going on with Jesus’ mission, it requires a deeper sense of seeing. When you read this passage, look at how many times you see the words “see” or “behold”.
Zacchaeus sees Jesus as someone who accepts him and calls him out of the crowd. Jesus sees Zacchaeus’ response to his acceptance and validates him by calling him a “Son of Abraham”. Jesus sees the lost as needing to be sought out and brought into community with him and others.
Zacchaeus becomes an active participant in the kingdom of God when he meets Jesus and gives away much of his wealth. Zacchaeus was unclean, a tax-collector, yet he was able to see the generosity of the Kingdom, not only benefiting from that generosity but acting as an extension of that generosity to others. In Luke 19:8, Zacchaeus refers to Jesus twice as “Kyrie” or “Lord”. Luke wants the reader to see that Zacchaeus, an unclean man who is a tax collector and on the outside of the “honor/shame” culture, recognizes Jesus’ authority.
What were Zacchaeus’ motives? He ran to the front of the crowd in Luke 19:4 and climbed a tree in order to see Jesus. Was this because he was short or because he wanted others to notice him? What was his stature in the community? There is a “larger” narrative here than Zacchaeus’ physical size. In this passage, the Greek word for “stature” comes from “mikro” which means “small”. In the NSRV this is translated as Zacchaeus being a small man or short. It could it also mean that he was simply not well regarded in the community and was not looked upon with respect. He was a chief tax collector, his job was to collect money owed to the government and he was “wealthy”. He had an abundance of possessions that others may not have had access. He was, in many ways, separate from others, and may have felt quite “small”.
In verse 9, Jesus identifies Zacchaeus as a “son of Abraham” and that “salvation has come to this house”. The Greek word for salvation in Luke 19:9 is defined in this verse as meaning salvation in the NSRV, it could also mean “preservation”. It could also be referring to Jesus as being salvation. When exactly Zacchaeus is “saved” is not the point of this passage, it could have been either at that moment or he could have been saved already, the point is that he saw Jesus as Lord in 19:8 and Jesus saw him as a “son of Abraham” and he is somehow “saved” now. This passage reverses the societal order and gives Zacchaeus validation as a “clean” member of the community. I believe his stature that day grew, or his agency…he became much more through Jesus’ recognition of him as a “son of Abraham”, a child of God.
Zacchaeus, “with joy” welcomes him into his house as he asked to do. Not only does he recognize that Jesus is Lord with words, he responds to Jesus’ request to come to his house with action. This joy and desire to act faithfully leads him to give away half of his possessions to the poor and to repay any he may have wronged in Luke 19:8, well beyond what was required by Jewish law. This story sets up the closing statement in this passage in Luke 19:10 to address Jesus’ desire that he came to “seek and save the lost”, showing God’s generosity and that God sees faithfulness in an entirely different way than simply following all of the laws. Faith has to be genuine and based on God’s generosity to us and his coming to us, not us to him. Jesus sees a faith in Zaachaeus that he doesn’t see in many who are “devout” in their religious practices.
Recognizing God’s generosity as Jesus sees Zacchaeus leads him to respond in faith and obedience, not only in words, but in action as well. This brings a fundamental change, transformation, in the way Zacchaeus sees himself and how others may see him. Friends, may we too climb a tree, work our way towards curiousity…see Jesus and know that we are seen…and in so, move into action to love, to grow, to change.