Luke 19:1-10 “God Seeks Us”
Last Tuesday afternoon we had our usual bible study at the Regency Pua Kea. We talked about this text. One of the participants, Hatsuko, mentioned that she had seen the sycamore tree that Zacchaeus had climbed way back then. She mentioned that in 1993 she had taken a tour of Israel, and the tour guide specifically pointed out a certain tree and affirmed that it was that tree, that very tree, that had been mentioned in the Bible.
I had to respond with a chuckle and mention that I must have gotten this story about Zacchaeus completely wrong! I thought Jesus had given salvation to eternal life to Zacchaeus—now I realize he had given it to the sycamore tree instead! (ha ha)
Sycamores only live maybe two hundred years to be sure. Wouldn’t it be interesting to preach this story from the standpoint of the sycamore tree? I think that would be something for Clint to preach on. He is our tree expert in the church!
Actually Clint said that if I wanted him to, he would go climb a tree outside and yell and wave his arms while I was preaching. I told him that I would not want him to go out on a limb for me. Although, it is nice that he wants to branch out on his own.
This part of the Bible is about a man named Zacchaeus, not about his tree.
I was fascinated in the Tuesday morning bible study on this text that the group really began to focus on who Zacchaeus was. They talked about his feelings, his possible past history, even that he might be suffering from a “Napoleon Complex.” This last idea means that some people of short stature may over-compensate for their shortness by becoming overtly aggressive. You know, like Napoleon Bonaparte tried to take over Europe—some people believe that all those wars were somehow about one man’s physical height.
In our text, it is specifically mentioned that Zacchaeus was a short man. Was he teased as a child? Is that why he became a tax collector? Was this his way to get back at those who teased him when he was younger? A tax collector in those days was more like a mafia henchman. Zacchaeus was not just a tax collector, however, he was a chief tax collector. He had others working under him. He was more like the mafia boss.
When he tries to approach Jesus, he is strangely alone. Where are his underlings? Where is his “protection”? He has come to seek Jesus at some risk to himself. If the mob were to turn against him, he would be in a lot of trouble.
Maybe that is why he seems always to be in a hurry? Did you notice that about the story? Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd. He must be dripping in sweat when he hurriedly must climb the tree in order to see Jesus. When Jesus spots him, Jesus says to hurry up down out of the tree to go to his house. What is the big hurry?
Maybe the fear is that the crowd may turn against Zacchaeus? Maybe everything is hurried so that the crowd around them will not have time to figure out that this is the chief tax collector Zacchaeus.
I think that might be part of the big hurry. However, as we read this text, it becomes clear that Zacchaeus is intent on finding Jesus for the singular reason to know him and to repent of his life before him. Please consider the fact that when Jesus does finally and hurriedly come to the house, Zacchaeus seems to forget about all the pleasantries that our traditional in the Jewish hospitality codes of the day. He does not offer Jesus any food, drink, a cleansing towel, or even a place to sit. The story we have says that he instantly repented before Jesus. He said he would give away half of his household to the poor, and with the other half he would pay back every one he has cheated four-fold.
This raises a great question for all of us: Would you hurry to run and climb up a tree, then hurry back to your house, in order to make quick repentance in your life? Do you think there is a hurry? Both Zacchaeus and Jesus seem to be wanting to expedite the repentance process on that day. Nothing else seems to matter as much as this.
Something else to consider in this question is how it is that Jesus seems to seek Zacchaeus out of the crowd. Did you notice that it is not Zacchaeus that cries out to Jesus. Jesus cries out to him, saying “Hurry down out of that tree.”
Last week we had the story of the blind Bartemaeus on this same road to Jerusalem. He cried out to Jesus and called Jesus to him. Now we see the reverse: Jesus calls to Zacchaeus. Jesus seems to know already who he is and what he needs in his life. He knows this man’s heart for sure.
Have you ever heard the call of Jesus in your lives? I want to be clear because usually when we talk about “call” it is to authorized ministry within in the church. I think we need to broaden that understanding. I think Jesus calls to everyone’s heart. I think that Jesus is always seeking people out. Like it says in the song “Amazing Grace,” “I once was lost, but now I am found.” This means that it is not I who find Jesus but rather Jesus who seeks me out and finds me. Right?
This is also the very core of the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus will go out and seek that one out of a hundred. We stray away from the shepherd, and the shepherd comes after us.
When my dog Nikos was a puppy, he got out of the kennel a couple of times. I had to go out and look for him. He might have eventually come home when it was time to eat. Yet, he could have done a lot of scrounging and who knows what before then, so I did go out and find him on those occasions. One time he was in the doggie jail in Lihue. I was not going to leave him there. I hurried out to Lihue and brought him home. Even though he ran away and got into trouble, I came after him. Again, as I noted in a previous sermon, I did that because I simply love the dumb dog.
God has more love for us. Jesus knows that we have messed up. We have walked away from the true path of righteousness. He comes after us to get us out of the doggie jail we find ourselves in.
So, this is not a call to ministry that Jesus is putting on Zacchaeus. This is a call to repentance. This is a call to salvation. This is a call to accept the love of God that would make God send his only son to die on the cross that we might know eternal life with him.
There is Zacchaeus up in the tree. Jesus calls to him to hurry down because he knows he needs repentance. Let us now upset the story a little to fit what mostly happens today with people. Jesus calls out “Come on down and be with me.” So, Zacchaeus replies in a hardened tone: “Nope. I am quite comfortable up here in this tree all be myself holding on as best I can!”
Then, Jesus says, I am going to your house now! Have you ever tried to get someone to come to church only to have them reply “No thank you!”? They are happy staying up in that tree, looking from afar to see who Jesus really is. So, we must realize that some folks will never come into church. Sooo, you have to go reach out to them where THEY live!
Jesus could have asked Zacchaeus to go to the local inn with him. Maybe they could have gone out to eat. Maybe they could just do sit in a garden somewhere. Nope, Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he is going to his house. He is going to go where he lives.
This last month in the newsletter I wrote about the Bible Clubs that we host on campus at the middle school and high school here in Waimea. To be perfectly honest, I get to share the good news with so many children because we as a church seek them out where they are. We know that most kids are hanging back and just wondering who Jesus is from afar. In the name of Jesus we seek them out. We call out to them. We are coming to your schools! We are coming to your homes. WE are coming to your art nights! You name it.
Lastly, Jesus is in the home of Zacchaeus when the man repents. What affect does that have on the household. Jesus did not just come for one man. He came for the entire house. Did you catch that in the text? His entire house receives salvation.
We just had an election here, so this story really fits. At the church we served in Los Angeles, the church would open up its fellowship hall for being a polling place. We made a big deal of it, thinking that it was a great way to bring people into the church that would not otherwise ever cross the threshold of the church. We even bought donuts for all who came to vote. Coffee and tea were available, too.
On one such voting day, a mother and child walked into the church. The little girl was enthralled with the Sanctuary and asked her mother what the building was used for. The mother tried to explain what churches were used for. The little girl responded that she would like to try going to church on Sunday. That next week they came to the church. They both thought it was wonderful. Long story short, they became a new family to the church. The mother today is the church secretary in fact.
When one person sees how happy knowing Jesus can make someone, how their life changes to joy, entire families can be brought to the faith. We must see that it was not just Zacchaeus that was saved. The entire family was granted salvation. Jesus brought him down out of the tree in order that the entire family could be saved.
Hear Christ calling out to you today. He is calling you to come home with him. He is seeking you out for salvation and for the salvation of those whom you love.