Readings are here.
Luke 19:1-10 Jesus 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.”
As soon as we read this Gospel I can almost hear the Sunday School song running through your minds. Though we know this story well, as with all familiar stories it is easy to miss the point Jesus is making. We know Zacchaeus is a tax collector and rich – both things make him despised in his time. Tax collectors were “of the people” but not “for the people.” They collected taxes for the Roman Empire which paid for the soldiers who often made their lives miserable. They got rich by adding something on for themselves. We know he is so short that he has to climb a tree to see over the crowds. We know Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus house to stay with him. So what’s the point?
This story is found in between the blind beggar who wants to see again and the parable of the talents – the story of the people entrusted with someone else’s wealth and what they do with that wealth. In some ways Zacchaeus is blind – blind to his true self but seeking something. Perhaps he is wondering why his parent’s named him Zacchaesus which means “Pure” – and how far he has come from that ideal. He has climbed a tree of his own choosing – put himself “up a tree” by his pursuit of wealth – not a bad thing in itself but by means were less than “pure.” Others have also put him up the tree – they do not make room for him in the community – as shown by his need to climb the tree – instead of having a place along with the others. He has great riches – but what has he made of the things he has obtained. Does he feel gratitude or does he think he deserves it because he was clever and earned.
So we find Zacchaeus up the tree of his own and others making. Seeking to see this person of whom he has heard, as much as the blind man sought his physical sight. Perhaps to see with the eyes of his heart that had become blinded over the years. Seeking something more that he even knows. He thought he was just going to see this famous person – but as in most of Jesus’ stories – the tables are turned.
Jesus sees him and calls him out — calls him by name — “Zacchaeus – pure one” – Jesus fixes his attention on the one who no one thinks is worthy – not the crowd, not Zacchaeus himself. Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house — not just his home but into the home of his heart — I am coming to stay in your heart today. Make room. And Zacchaeus does make room – he clears the space that has been occupied with collecting the taxes and gives over and above what was required for atonement for stealing from others.
Jesus tells the shocked crowds – this man is a Son of Abraham – just like you – he is part of you – as you are part of one another- you cannot be separated from each other or the love of God – no matter how lost you might feel, no matter what you have done. You can’t be an outsider of the reign of God. You are always in. The message returns Zacchaeus and all who really hear it – to wholeness – salvation – healing of the person and the community.
It is atonement – at- one – ment. Becoming whole — It is always there, waiting to come in, waiting to enter our hearts.
The sign of our acceptance comes in the words of Sirach:
Give to the Most High as he has given to you,
and as generously as you can afford.
For the Lord is the one who repays,
and he will repay you sevenfold.
Do not offer him a bribe, for he will not accept it
and do not rely on a dishonest sacrifice;
for the Lord is the judge,
and with him there is no partiality.
He will not show partiality to the poor;
but he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged.
He will not ignore the supplication of the orphan,
or the widow when she pours out her complaint.
The Christ is always asking to come into our hearts – to make a home for that love that passes all understanding that can change the world.