21st Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 26 – C)
October 30, 2022
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from St. Luke.
The Gospel for this morning is probably really familiar to most of you. It seems like I’ve known the song Zacchaeus Was A Wee Little Man, my entire life – and it was in my head all week long. What’s curious about the story being so familiar is that we rarely hear it since it falls right around Reformation; Zacchaeus gets bumped by Luther. But then again, it’s a feel-good story, isn’t it? Maybe that’s why it has stuck with us since Sunday school. Your knowledge of the story might be limited to what you remember from the song, but there’s much more to it. This reading isn’t about a short man who wanted to see Jesus or have Him over for dinner. It’s about a seeker who didn’t find, but instead was found.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man, but that sells him short because there’s much more to him than his height. As you may remember from last week, tax collectors were despised; even the beggars wouldn’t accept gifts from tax collectors. Zacchaeus was the worst because he was a chief tax collector, the boss of all the others, and he had grown incredibly wealthy through his salary and graft. If you listen closely, you’ll hear that not everything was right with Zacchaeus.
Jericho was at a major crossroads, so it was heavily trafficked by people coming from all over, and perhaps that’s where Zacchaeus heard the tales of the man from Nazareth. What did he hear? That Jesus was a miracle worker? A friendly guy? Or did he hear something different? Perhaps that this Jesus had a disciple who used to be a tax collector? Maybe he heard Jesus ate with men like him, tax collectors who were the chief of sinners?
We also don’t know why he wanted to see Jesus so badly. Luke says, “And he was seeking to see who Jesus was”. Luke means that Zacchaeus kept trying and wouldn’t give up. You can picture him trying to push through the crowd, standing on his tiptoes. It could be that he was just curious. But if that were the case, why would he run ahead of the crowd and climb a tree? Tax collectors were looked down on enough, why would he do something that made him look foolish too? He was seeking Jesus, but as he’ll soon learn, that’s not how things work with Jesus.
Zacchaeus didn’t realize that while he may have been seeking Jesus, it was Jesus who found him. Jesus stops under the tree and looks up, and He calls Zacchaeus by name. Zacchaeus had to have been shocked. Jesus knew him? That was amazing. Then Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today”. Jesus wasn’t just inviting Himself for a meal, He was going to spend the night as well.
Don’t you love Zacchaeus’ response? He joyfully jumped down to greet Jesus. There’s no fear, no self-consciousness, no attempt to ask Jesus if He was sure, and no attempt on the part of Zacchaeus to hide his past. He knows what he is and he’s filled with joy to welcome this man who wants to spend time with him, a sinner. Of course, as we hear time again, the “good” Jews grumbled about this. It’s shameful because a man who eats with sinners becomes a sinner. By feasting with Zacchaeus becomes a filthy, thieving tax collector.
In the Gospels when Jesus says, “I must” or “It is necessary”, it means that He’s about to do some saving. He wasn’t condoning Zacchaeus’ sin, not at all. But, even while Jesus condemns sin, He’s seeking to save sinners. So yes, He does indeed accept Zacchaeus for who he is, but soon Zacchaeus would be different. Christ’s Word did something to Zacchaeus and his family. He was moved by the Holy Spirit to see that Jesus was the Savior, and that’s why Jesus joyfully announced: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost”. There it is, there’s the reason He called Zacchaeus, not because Zacchaeus was looking for Him but because Jesus was looking for him.
Do you know what it’s like to be looking for something, anything to help? You’re struggling spiritually, physically, emotionally, or mentally and you don’t know what to do. Maybe you can’t even see Jesus because all your problems are blocking your view of Him. You may be seeking Him or something to help and maybe you’re not having any luck, but don’t ever forget that He is looking for you, and He has found you.
He didn’t reject Zacchaeus a sinner. He didn’t reject Paul who called himself, “the chief of sinners”. And He’s not going to reject you! He sees to save you from all your troubles and all your sin. There isn’t anyone who is too far gone to be saved. There isn’t anyone so buried in troubles that Jesus can’t see. There isn’t a sinner too great to be forgiven. The world, like the Pharisees who were always watching, may think that a man or woman isn’t worth saving, but not Jesus. He came for the lost, He came for you! In the greatest game of Hide and Seek ever, the Savior found you, and like just finding Zacchaeus wasn’t the point, it’s the same here, Jesus came to save you. He wants to come to your house, not to visit, rather to stay. Today your sins are forgiven and today salvation has come to you! Hear these words and rejoice!
As a Jew, Zacchaeus would’ve known what the Law required of those who had been caught stealing. This doesn’t mean Zacchaeus wouldn’t be forgiven until he made restitution. He was forgiven and that’s why he wanted to show his love and faith by making things right. According to the God’s Law, Zacchaeus would’ve had to pay back double what he stole plus twenty percent. That wasn’t enough for Zacchaeus because he was going to repay four times what he had stolen. He says, “If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” His “if” doesn’t mean maybe he did. It means that he knows that he had been unscrupulous. He was also going to give half of his wealth to the poor, that’s what his salvation meant to him. The forgiveness of sins transformed him from a lover of money to a lover of God.
Our response to the forgiveness of sins is also a radical departure from our sin. Jesus found you and today He forgives you, so respond to His love, not out of guilt or shame, but joyfully. We are stewards of what God has given us, we’re to take care of all that we have, and we give back to God our tithes, our offerings, and our good works. Not to show God we’re sorry enough to be saved. But because we’re thankful for all His goodness to us lost sinners. Zacchaeus gave up his wealth and repaid his debts because he received true riches, and those true riches, the riches of forgiveness and salvation are yours as well.
The name Zacchaeus means “righteous” or “pure”. He wasn’t living up to his name, but when Jesus found him, he was his name. The salvation that came to him made him righteous and pure. Church tradition says that he became a companion of Saint Peter and the first Bishop of Caesarea. I don’t know what your name means, but I know what it means now. You too are righteous and pure. You too have been found by Jesus and made new men and women. Maybe you are seeking Jesus, maybe you’re not. But regardless, He knows where you are, He knows your name, and He says to you: “Hurry, for I must stay at your house today.”
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen