St Michael’s, 7th March 2010
What have you noticed about the last few days? Yes, it has been brighter, certainly sunnier and perhaps some of us have seen the flowers growing, the trees starting to bud and the daffodils coming out. Some people I have talked to have said that it makes them feel much better than in the darker days and the rain and cloudy times of the previous few weeks. We can appear to do more be more enthusiastic about things.
This feels a little bit like our reading from Luke today, where Zacchaeus comes upon a new enthusiasm to follow the Lord.
So what do we feel about the Luke reading today. We have a small man who is a tax collector in the time of occupation by the Romans in the Holy Land, named Zacchaeus. He was Jewish and had a Hebrew name that meant pure/righteous. It is probably the last thing he felt like at the time he met Jesus – pure and righteous.
What did Zacchaeus really do? He was chief tax collector and collected taxes for the Romans and passed that on to the authorities, but what about the mark up or his cut that he added to the taxes and kept for himself? He was a wealthy man. Certainly today we would probably despise someone like Zacchaeus and not be very friendly towards him and may not even trust him. Sometimes people find it hard to empathise with rich people, some may say if I had their money, or they don’t know how real people live, and so become a focus for envy and dislike. It would have been similar in the time of Jesus, and this may have meant that it would be almost impossible to get to the front of the crowd as Jesus passed by as no one would let him through, he was a small man and needed to be near the front, but the attitude of the crowd towards him would mean he had to try something else and so he climbed up a tree to take a look at Jesus.
So why did Zacchaeus want to see Jesus? Could it have been curiosity? No doubt he would have heard a lot about Jesus from others as word of Jesus’ miracles, preaching and good works spread very quickly in the area. Was it Jesus’ reputation? Had he heard that Jesus befriended sinners, tax collectors and others that were despised? Had Zacchaeus come to a point in his life where he wanted to change his ways, from being a money grabbing tax collector to a person freed from the love of money which was the main motivation and master in his life? Zecchaeus’ wealth may not have given him the acceptance he wanted and he was lost.
Did he see Jesus as an answer to his problems or was he just there as a gawping on looker, which was suggested in v3?
In many ways it does not matter because Jesus made a response to Zacchaeus, in v6 Jesus said he must stay with him and meet and get to know him. Maybe Jesus had heard of Zacchaeus or of his reputation, perhaps his stature, being small, identified him to Jesus.
Jesus wanted to go to his house and the crowd had a negative response to the fact that Jesus was talking and wanting to stay with Zacchaeus, they thought that Jesus should not mix with sinners v7, but that was one of the reasons he wanted to go to stay with him. Perhaps Zacchaeus was surprised to be asked by Jesus to stay at his house. Perhaps his guilt for being a cheat and a sinner by the way he had cheated many people out of money and told them false truths about how much the Roman authorities wanted made him reconsider. But actually he was like a lost sheep and needed to be found by his shepherd! His response was to give half his possessions to the poor and any one he had cheated he would pay them back 4 times – v8. He was a wealthy man and being prepared to do this would make him poor financially although not in spirit, but this was his release and salvation that he would no longer have 2 masters, that of the Lord and the love of money, the urge to amass as much as possible at any cost. Jesus told Zacchaeus, v9 and 10, Today salvation has come to this house, because this man is also a son of Abraham, For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. These verses have extra meaning because when he refers to salvation having come to this house he also includes the rest of the household, and when Jesus mentions that Zacchaeus is also a son of Abraham it means that he is a true Jew that can trace his lineage back to Abraham, the crowds might have doubted this. So he is truly saved and has started a new righteous and holy life.
So how does this relate to us today? It relates to many of us here today, including me but also many outer in the wider world out there. Jesus will meet us in our need, and God looks over us and protects us but puts us into situations where we then realise that we have been doing wrong, or have drifted away from our focus on Jesus as saviour, Lord and King in our lives. Don’t we often work by our own plan, not having asked God whether this is what he wants us to do. When we could have prayed for help and inspiration, we did not. We can even convince ourselves that it is the correct thing to do, like Zacchaeus probably did? This can happen in so many areas of our lives. The way we spend our money, our attitude to people, our priorities, our selfishness as opposed to selflessness(doing things we don’t want to do and putting our selves out for others). Don’t most of us fall into the trap of not making Jesus no.1 in our life, because we follow our plan not God’s?
God is always willing and through his grace is able to accept us back into his grand plan for us on his terms, not ours, and when we realise this it makes life so much easier than being swayed by the whims of society. Not going with the flow with those around us that feel they can do anything they want at anytime in life.
God’s grace and forgiveness should motivate us to change and to keep on changing just like Zacchaeus.
And finally, if you feel lost today or have been over the last few days or weeks, perhaps in a small way or you feel it might be of Zacchaeus proportions then find someone to share this with. You may want to do this in private with someone or you may want to tell someone over tea or coffee at the end of the service, or perhaps you want to go and pray about it, but it is important that we are honest with ourselves and like Zacchaeus seek and ask Jesus truly back into our lives.