TEXTS: Isaiah 1:10-18
Jesus sees and calls: Hurry and Come down! I want to go to your house today.
When I was a child flannel graph was the Bible story technology. How many of you remember flannel graph Bible stories? Zaccheaus made a good flannel graph story as a succinct successful salvation story. A rich cheating tax collector sees Jesus, repents and is saved. As usual with Jesus and the gospels there is more to the story than meets the eye.
Hear it and see Jesus with Zacchaeus.
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 Jesus, who was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So Zacchaeus hurried down and was happy to welcome Jesus. 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 Jesus, “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 child of Abraham. For the Human One came to seek out and to save the lost.”
The Prophet and the Psalm See Our Choice
The Old Testament scriptures serve as background undergirding the gospel.
The prophet Isaiah sees injustice and calls us to seek justice – the choice is ours. (1:10f).
The Psalmist helps us see that when we turn to God our sin is forgiven (32:1-7).
A Deeper Story of Seeing Jesus
With that in view let’s “see” the gospel again step-by-step to “see Jesus.”
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it.
Entering Jericho and “passing through” tells us that Jesus is on a journey. For many Sundays, we have been on this journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. It is not a straight-line journey but one that leads Jesus to many places and encounters. Nevertheless, it is a distinct and deliberate journey to Jerusalem, the heart of regional empire. Jericho is down the hill from Jerusalem near the Jordan River. Jesus enters Jericho to be present with people here even as he is passing through up to Jerusalem. Lots of “Jerichoans” come out to see Jesus.
A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.
He was known for having become wealthy as a cheating chief tax collector. He is NOT a well-loved “Jerichoan” as one of the crowd.
In the radical reformation five centuries ago, taxation was a controversy and hardship. Early Anabaptist leader Michael Sattler, as prior of a monastery, oversaw collecting taxes. from Taxes paid by the poor benefited the rich enforced by Church and state in 16th century Europe. “Infidel” Turks were invading Europe and more tax dollars were needed for war. Sound familiar? Yes, then too war and wealth were hand-in-glove. Michael Sattler struggled with such injustice, left the monastery and joined the Anabaptists. That was 1525; in 1527 he was arrested and burned at the stake as a heretic. Sattler like Zacchaeus was a feared and hated tax collector. Sattler like Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was. But on account of the crowd he could not. Why? Because he was short in stature. We are not told that Zacchaeus “wanted to see Jesus” but to “to see who Jesus was.” This is not a curious guy getting a glimpse of Jesus but one who really wants to see Jesus. The crowd is big and he is short but Zacchaeus won’t let that stop him. One of the ways we are crowded out or blinded is going along with the crowd to get along. We let the crowd mentality keep us from seeing who Jesus is. Zacchaeus is set on seeing who Jesus is!
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus, who was going to pass that way.
A sycamore tree, in the Bible, is a symbol of strength, divinity, and eternity.
Maybe it was the only tree around but a sycamore is a good tree to see who Jesus is.
When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”
Jesus is always present to people and place. Even on a long journey to Jerusalem Jesus sees those who come to see him along the way. Jesus stops, looks up, and calls Zacchaeus. What does Jesus call? “Hurry and come down, for I must stay with you today!” In the gospel Jesus regularly calls people “down” or “up.”
Jairus’ daughter has died and Jesus takes her hand calling, “Child, get up” (Luke 8:54). Those who are “down” Jesus calls “up.” Those who are “up” Jesus calls “down.” Mary sang of Jesus’ upside down reign when she carried baby Jesus within her body. Both those called up and those called down are called to follow Jesus together. We are called up or down from our situation in life to join Jesus on the journey. Jesus calls us to discipleship and relationship in the beloved community of God’s family. It is a call that poses a choice for us. But to choose Jesus we have to see Jesus. Zacchaeus chose rightly: he hurried down and was happy to welcome Jesus. Zacchaeus chooses further: to offer hospitable welcome and action for justice.
In the middle of the gospel story the crowd is heard again. What does the crowd see and say? What crowds usually see and say! All who saw it grumbled accusingly, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” A crowd comes to see Jesus but doesn’t really want to see Jesus. They want Jesus to see them. The crowd grumbles and accuses Jesus of eating with a sinner. The gospel consistently sees “good folk” resenting Jesus hanging out with “bad folk.”
Our words and actions say: What good is it for me to be good if Jesus rewards bad guys?
Zacchaeus stood there and said to Jesus, “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.” That Zacchaeus “stood” to speak is a sign indicative of authenticity and authority. To begin ministry in his hometown Nazareth synagogue Jesus stood up to speak (4:16f).
Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a child of Abraham. For the Human One came to seek out and to save the lost.” Jesus claims Zacchaeus as a child of God’s family in Abraham and Sarah. Jesus does not take Zacchaeus through a confession ritual but recognizes his act of restitution. Zacchaeus sees Jesus by going beyond his own blindness and the blindness of the crowd. He comes down when Jesus calls and welcomes him and welcomes Jesus in return. We don’t know whether Zacchaeus gave up his tax collecting position. This isn’t an “are you saved” spiritualized “come to Jesus” way of seeing Jesus. Jesus welcomes Zacchaeus into God’s family so the real work of seeing Jesus can go on.
Zacchaeus challenges us to see who Jesus is and reminds us of complicity with injustice. Like Zacchaeus I, too, am enmeshed in systems of injustice. I live with white privilege and patriarchal power in an imperial culture. I pay taxes even while withholding a symbolic amount as “war tax resistance.” I vote for people who make war on poor and powerless people around the world. I own a cell phone made of metals extracted from lands of oppressed peoples. I bank where my money goes to promote our entrenched military industrial complex. I drive and fly with a large carbon footprint leading to global warming. I eat food and drink coffee grown by people who don’t have enough to eat or drink. My broken tooth is capped with gold mined where and by indigenous peoples who are dying from mining. I can justify any of my acts but my complicity goes on and injustice goes on. And I want to see who Jesus really is today.
The Politics of Jesus
One of those who helped us see Jesus is John Howard Yoder. For 40 years his defining book The Politics of Jesus has helped countless people see Jesus. Without The Politics of Jesus I cannot imagine being in ministry or even in the Church. Yet we cannot call on John Howard Yoder’s legacy without deep lament. John violated seeing Jesus by violating women. Today, 15 years after his death, victimized women are finally being heard. Our Mennonite Church is seeking to see Jesus and foster healing for women and the church.
Last Sunday we told Walter Thieme stories recognizing the trauma and grace of his life with us. Walter defies much of what we know of Jesus and yet saw Jesus in ways we couldn’t imagine.
Jesus call us into God’s family on this journey in all our humanity. Jesus calls us up from privation or down from privilege into God’s family. May Zacchaeus help us see who Jesus truly is in our life and church and world.