“Trying to See Jesus”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
November 3, 2019
“He was trying to see who Jesus was…” — Luke 19:3ai
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. Had he known what he would find or rather, who would find him, he may have reconsidered his desire. By the end of the encounter, this rich man would be far poorer than when the day had begun. The things of this world would be lost but Zacchaeus will have seen Jesus in the whole, come to know Him in full, and found his life restored. He will have been made rich in the things of heaven.
Zacchaeus by any measure was a man of great sin. Had he mocked God and those who followed the path of righteousness? Had he scoffed at those who practiced virtue and lived by the rules of common decency? How often had he heard the lament of the widow who was forced to give Zacchaeus money that would have fed her children? How often had he ignored the plight of the poor and demanded of them far more than Zacchaeus ever asked of those in power? How often had he colluded with Rome and bribed his way into his position so he could be the big man in town? His was an insatiable greed that ate the necessities of the poor. Zacchaeus by any measure was a man of great sin.
And note that in all probability he was not the only person in the tree that day. Children will always be children and being small, wouldn’t they have done as Zacchaeus had done? How else to see the biggest thing to happen to Jericho since the walls came tumbling down! So there Zacchaeus sat, a small little man, yet the richest man in the city, sitting with the most powerless of her citizens — the children.
Oh, he must have been a man of great power. Who else would dare to climb a tree filled with the children whose parents he had defrauded, with the children who had been reduced to live in poverty so he might live in luxury?
But wait. Being a man of great wealth and a man who could bring people to ruin, could he not just tell people to move out of the way, make room for his important personage? Is not this how the rich and powerful behave. The don’t wait in line. They ignore it.
So I am not altogether sure why Zacchaeus climbed that sycamore tree. Could it be that if he had used his social position and power to come to the feet of Jesus, he might find himself having to bow his head in the presence of Jesus? He might find himself judged by this prince of the people? I don’t know why Zacchaeus chose not to use his position of power. He climbed up and Jesus had to call him down.
Down off of his perch of privilege and self-sufficiency, just as Jesus calls us down and away from thinking that our virtue saves us, our good deeds entitle us. Jesus calls us down just as he called Zacchaeus down and we are never down far enough until we are down and out. Out of our last hope of saving ourselves, of thinking that there is something we can do to sweep the dark places of our lives away, down from thinking that we have the power to control the demons that are within.
How shocked they must have been when they heard Jesus say, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” This holy man they had come to revere was going into the house where the grounds are manicured, the furniture soft and plush, the dishes sparkled and the waitstaff was ready to serve. They had never been inside this home made possible by the money Zacchaeus had extorted from them. Into that house and not the home of the poor widow who had nothing to feed her children because Zacchaeus had shown her no mercy. How shocked they must have been.
Notice, too, that Jesus did not say, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I may stay at your house today.” There is no “may” of “might.” There is a must. A “must stay at your house today” because this is not a popularity contest. Jesus isn’t waiting to see if the crowd’s grumbling will subside. Jesus isn’t waiting for approval of your parents, your spouse, your children or your employer. Jesus must stay in the very house that may hide your sin or serve as a protective barrier against those things you cannot control. Jesus will come into the house we have defiled with cursing or made dark with drunkenness, or used those we love to meet our own sick ends. Into that very house Jesus will come and bring a blessing. He comes and doesn’t wait for an invitation or for you to answer the door. He must stay at your home.
In the end, it is not so significant that Zacchaeus saw Jesus. The true transformation comes when Jesus sees Zacchaeus. And so I close with one other reflection. In Richard Vinson’s commentary on Luke, Vinson notes that dwarfs were seen as objects of derision, as a joke in plays and in the circus. Had Zacchaeus ever wished he was tall, that his stature was not made into a joke. He was the richest man in town but also the shortest, so short that he had to climb a tree to see Jesus? I suspect that he, like us, bemoaned his physical limitation — that he wished he had been dealt a different genetic hand. But was it not the very thing he bemoaned that led to Jesus finding him in that tree? Are not our weaknesses the very things that can led us to Christ?
Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was and when he did, he discovered who he was meant to be. May it be so for us as well. Let us pray…
i Luke 19:1-10
1He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When 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.’ 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 8Zacchaeus 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.’ 9Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’