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.” [NRSV]
Our communities are generally more concerned about Halloween than celebrating all the Saints who have died and found the promises of eternal life and love fulfilled during this weekend of celebrations. Even fewer are trying to hold the memory of the saints in a high place of honor while addressing lessons of stewardship for the upcoming Stewardship Sunday next week. But here we are faced with the reality of context in the face of the power of the lectionary text: Zacchaeus the Wee, Little man.
As we listen carefully to this passage we can learn a good deal about Zack and ourselves. First this man was a notorious cheat and swindler of the community. His reputation and status was made through taking advantage of his position to profit from some of the poorest of neighbors. Taxes, user fees, registrations, licenses, and mandated participations in medical plans are all forms of taxes. They are always up for debate for everyone except for those who collect them and those who profit from them. Everyone else would like to avoid paying any more than they must pay. Zach not only had the unpopular task of collecting these funds, he also used the occasion to collect an acquisition fee on top of the tax has his income. He had the opportunity to define the amount of profit he would make from collecting unpopular taxes. Together this made him to be the least likely to befriend in the neighborhood.
It is no wonder that folks did not cut him any slack in finding his way to see Jesus who was visiting their town. Secondly we learn that Zach was not only not respected and excluded from popularity contests, he was none the less, curious about Jesus. This is actually a refreshing picture of those that we least favor in our communities. Even the least respected and most avoided can be curious about Jesus. And this is the chink in the armor that opens the door of grace for us all.
Zach, actually is more than curious; he takes extra steps to make a way to Jesus. He sets up the occasion to have a better perspective and even a chance meeting with Jesus. When the community of faith had given up on him, Zach remains interested enough to do some homework and recon work himself to create an opportunity to meet Jesus. If you have never taken the opportunity to participate in the Walk to Emmaus retreat ministry, you should attend. It is a concentrated effort to create opportunities for someone to meet Christ and to grow closer in her or his relationship with Christ. (Visit the Upperroom.org and check it out.) Zach has made his own little retreat in the top of a tree, hoping to gain a new perspective and understanding of Jesus.
Rather than simply being a spectator, Jesus calls Zach into a relationship of participation. Jesus does what the community has refused to do because of Zach’s behavior and destruction of the community. Jesus includes the stranger. Jesus opens the heart and home of the one who has no relationship. Jesus makes a way through honesty, confession and accountability when others are blocking access, even when it might seem justified. Jesus opens the heart.
When Zach’s heart is touched, he moves to confession and repentance. Without any prescription for restitution he begins to make things whole. Why, because when Jesus reaches out to this searching soul, Jesus is making him whole and out of wholeness responds by making things right or complete.
As a Stewardship message: it is out of wholeness that we learn to give what is holy. We might start with a Rx of 10% but finally mature to see that it might take more than a percent. It might take out whole lives.
As a Transformation message: it is the shift from Zaccheus making the plan and ruling the community, into Jesus making the plans and Jesus shaping the hearts of the WHOLE community.
As a practical message for us all: This example is not just about the rich, not about the oppressors, those to blame. It is also for the crowd that judged Zach as unreachable, unloveable, and beyond trust.. Jesus sees what is hiding in all of us and invites himself into the hearts and homes of those who are seeking.
Our task is to help each other seek Christ. In the streets or in our homes, in business or in church, back then and right now. Jesus desires to be at home with you and me. Let us go with him and all be make whole.