Zacchaeus had a pretty good idea of where he wanted to go with his life. Furthermore, Zacchaeus knew where resources were for his chosen lifestyle. He was an Israelite - a Judean - but a Judean who had checked to see on which side his bread could best be buttered. He sold himself to Israel's conquerors - the much-hated Romans.
Zacchaeus was a quisling who joined with his and his neighbor's enemies to feather his own nest.
Picture Zacchaeus - the Judean assessing and collecting the taxes from his Judean neighbors in Jericho to support the very Roman government and army which had conquered and enslaved him and his neighbors. Zacchaeus was so good at his chosen vocation that he was able to bid on neighboring territories and became a chief tax collector with other tax collectors biding to work under him.
And yet, somehow, on the afternoon when our Gospel text took place, Zacchaeus, who appeared to have it all, found himself both literally and figuratively up a tree.
In an age when names and their meanings were taken very seriously, his parents named him Zacchaeus– which means “pure”
or “godly”. How heart-breaking it must have been for his parents to watch their child grow into an uncaring opportunist whose loyalty belonged to his own quest for wealth and power and to the conquerors of God’s people who could give him both.
Worse than the way Zacchaeus saw his parents and his neighbors react to him and his lifestyle was Zacchaeus’ own loss of self-respect.
It was that loss of self-respect, that lack of genuine purpose in his life, that absence of meaningful human relationships, and the loss of his relationship with God – it was all of this and more which found Zacchaeus both literally and figuratively up a tree.
That was the afternoon Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And Zacchaeus sought to see Who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd…
As Jesus entered Jericho, the excitement rose to a fever pitch as people pushed, pulled, jostled, and squirmed for a place to see. Small of stature and totally despised by most of his Jericho neighbors Zacchaeus didn’t have a chance. In a few moments it would all be over and he would have seen nothing but the sweat strained backs of his neighbors. He ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Jesus.
As trees go, it was no doubt a poor specimen. The sycamore trees of Israel are even more scrawny than the one pictured here – often stunted by drought and heat. The healthiest sycamore trees in Israel are hard to climb and painful to occupy, but it appeared to Zacchaeus this one was the only seat in town that would give him a view of Jesus.
And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay with you tonight.”
Like Zacchaeus, whenever we seek God, we quickly discover God has already made all the arrangements to come to us.
How far is it from the center of the village of Jericho to a tree at the side of the road compared to the journey from heaven to a cave stable in Bethlehem? Jesus made both those journeys for the same reason.
It was out of love and concern for Zacchaeus that Jesus looked at that man up a tree and said, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”
In the kindly concern of Jesus, Zacchaeus suddenly realized God had not forgotten him. Though in foolish arrogance Zacchaeus appeared to have forgotten God, God still remembered him and still loved him.
Jesus called him by name and with the warmth of a true friend. The people of Jericho despised their unneighborly neighbor Zacchaeus and he had no respect for himself either, but God’s Son had called Zacchaeus by name and said He was coming to be a guest in Zacchaeus’ home.
Martin Luther rightly said “It is not enough to say that Jesus lived, died, and rose again, or that He forgives sin, until we can truly say He did it for me.” ² Zacchaeus could say that – and so can we.
Zacchaeus got the message – so he made haste, came down, and received Jesus joyfully – into his home – and into his life.
But not everyone got the message. When “the good people of Jericho” heard and saw what was happening, they all murmured “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” They missed the point.
Zacchaeus got the point – and it changed his life – Zacchaeus stood and said to The Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I will restore it fourfold.”
Zacchaeus’ life was never the same after that day Jesus spotted him up a tree. From that day on Zacchaeus’ life was eternal and the temporal stage of his life was filled with purpose, meaning, joy, love, and faith. Zacchaeus was a new man. That’s precisely what Jesus meant when He said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” (JOHN 10:10b)
That is why Jesus came to Jericho – and to this planet. That is the message Christ’s Church is here to proclaim.
"The mission to which The Lord has called us as Resurrection Lutheran Church is to lovingly and faithfully proclaim The Word of God as revealed incarnately in Jesus Christ and inerrantly in The Holy Bible."
And Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house… For The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Would that the entire Church of Jesus Christ would faithfully and loudly proclaim that Word in a world where that Word is not always welcome and even violently attacked – and yes, in a world where God's Word is so desperately needed.
THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH PASSES ALL HUMAN UNDERSTANDING KEEP YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS – OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD WHO CAME TO SEEK AND TO SAVE. AMEN.
Twenty Fourth Sunday of Trinity Season
November 4, 2018
Dr. Kurt Borows
Pastor, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Catawba Island, Port Clinton,