A sermon for Proper 26: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, Psalm 119:137-144, 2 Thessalonians 1:14, 11-12,
Backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, and backs, and backs, backs, backs, backs. All I can see are backs, and backs, and backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, and backs. Why won’t they let me through? Backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, ah there it is a tree. It is not very dignified to climb a tree; it is certainly not one of the seven habits of highly effective people, but that doesn’t matter (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner; Hoezee). Stretch, reach, pull a foothold push, There, now I can see. There he is! I can see him (Lose, In the Meantime; Hoezee; Lose, Working Preacher).
Samaritan leper saw that he was cured. The blind man received his sight (Lose, Working Preacher). Now I can see him; and he is looking at me! He is speaking to me!! What? He is going to stay at my house!!! I’m am honored. Son of Abraham he called me Son of Abraham, I am home, once again I belong; like the younger brother who squandered his inheritance (Luke 15:11). I am home. I belong. I am Zacchaeus, and I am home.
We have to go all the way back to Lazarus to hear a name. We did not read all these stories in our Sunday services this year but, neither blind beggar nor the young ruler, nor the little children, nor the Pharisee or the tax collector from last week, nor the widow or the judge from the week before that nor any of the ten lepers before that, have a name. So, when we hear a name, we know it is time to pay attention.
Zacchaeus comes from the Hebrew zakay whose roots mean pure or an Israelite. The older roots infer to be or make clean or pure (Thomas Nelson Inc; Olive Tree). Zacchaeus’ name supports the wordplay that his short stature implies his moral shortcomings (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Tax collectors are political and religious traitors, and he is a chief tax collector. Perhaps his name is a clue to the surprise of the story that he is made clean, by Jesus welcoming him into his own home as a son of Abraham.
There are a few important details that are perhaps hard to hear or to see because they are not there. Zacchaeus does not confess or repent (Lose, In the Meantime). The talk of giving away half his wealth, and repaying anyone he has defrauded, is very unclear (Butterworth). Is it something he is doing? Is it a promise? Is it something he would like to do? For Jesus’ part, he does not condemn Zacchaeus’ actions as a tax collector; which should not be a surprise since he does not condemn the nine lepers who go to the priest, as he told them to, or unjust judge or the Pharisee praying in the Temple. But, neither does he commend Zacchaeus’ apparent penitence, or his faith or his change of heart (Lose, Working Preacher).
So, a whole lot of what we think might be going on isn’t. Nonetheless, Zacchaeus is transformed. It happens just because Jesus accepts him for who he is, a child of Abraham. It is interesting to wonder how, or if Zacchaeus will be restored to a place in the community, as the two women, Jesus healed were. Jesus called one daughter, and the other a daughter of Abraham (Luke 8:4, 13:16). I expect we might find all of this stuff a bit helpful when we are anxious about going into a situation we are not comfortable with. Zacchaeus’ story shows us that the presence of Jesus opens the possibilities for unimaginable things to happen (Lose, Working Preacher). And since we are made in God’s image we also reflect Jesus’ image and we mirror Jesus’ presence.
Way back in chapter 10 Jesus sends seventy disciples on a mission trip. Parts of his instructions are to stay in homes, and to tell those who welcome them that “the Kingdom of God has come near you.” It seems that Jesus is following his own instructions (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Yes, Jesus tells Zacchaeus what is going to happen and that he is staying in Zacchaeus’ home. And though he uses different words, Jesus calling Zacchaeus, “son of Abraham,” reveals that the Kingdom of God has come near.
I find Zacchaeus’ story a banner of hope. Despite his short stature, and his diminished moral stature, Zacchaeus desires to see Jesus, and he does. Our hope is the promise that anyone who wants to see Jesus, will see him; and Jesus will also see them. In that moment, when you are seen by Jesus, in that moment, anything, anything can happen.
I also hear a call in Zacchaeus’ story. Our stewardship of Jesus’ ministry includes continuing to expand the boundary of those who are a child of God by seeing all who are God’s people, which Paul reminds us in Romans is pretty much everyone (Romans 19:0) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner; Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set). One way to share that the kingdom of God is right here right now is, without any preconditions or preconceptions, accepting people as children of Abraham, bearing the God’s image, just as they are.
A face, a friend, a smile. Hi, how are you? Thank you. Excuse me. You’re welcome. Yes, it is good to be home.
Butterworth, Susan. “The Righteous Live By Their Faith – Proper 26(C).” 30 10 2016. Sermons that Work.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 30 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 19:1-10. 30 10 2016.
Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 30 10 2016.
Lose, David. Commentary on Luke 19:1-10. 30 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
—. Pen 24 C / Reformation – The Unexpected. 30 10 2016.
Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.
Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Thomas Nelson Inc. NKJV Strong’s Bible. Nashville: Olive Tree, 1982.