Sunday, November 04, 2007
Pessimism keeps people trapped in a life where everything is always the same, people never change and daily life is drudgery. Optimism allows for the possibility of surprise, people are full of possibility and life is an adventure. These twos worlds are ones we all live in. Some people are naturally more one or the other; in fact we all have tendencies to either be a glass half full or a glass half empty kind of person.
In the book of Luke we have seen the Samaritan woman at the well become the messenger of good news to her entire community, the blind faith of the Roman Centurion who trusted in Jesus' word to heal his ill servant, a sinful woman anointing Jesus with expensive perfume and washing his feet with her tears of gratitude and drying them with her hair, demon possessed men are freed from their torment, children are raised from the dead, and Jesus feed thousands with the lunch of one small boy.
Over and over again Jesus takes the meek, unwanted, outcast and small things and people around him; sees them, restores them and shows them as an example to the big, powerful, and important forces in the world. Jesus uses the unlikely and small to impact the world in unexpected ways.
<< 1 Corinthians 1:27 >>
GOD'S WORD® Translation (©1995)
But God chose what the world considers nonsense to put wise people to shame. God chose what the world considers weak to put what is strong to shame.
The account of Zacchaeus is full of plot twists and turns that are often aspects of Jesus' interactions with people. Even if you are familiar with the story, listen for unusual and out of character actions and reactions in the reading. This scripture is one that is easy to use your imagination to help you "see & hear " the drama in your minds eye.
Jesus entered into 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 him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said," He has gone to be a guest of one who is a sinner." Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give away 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 son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
What unusual occurrences stand out to you in the account of Jesus and Zacchaeus?
Zacchaeus runs and climbs up in a tree. This was unusual and unseeming behavior for a man in his position in society. Also there is an interesting fact concerning the kind of tree Zacchaeus actually climbed. "A sycamore was a large evergreen tree with large, low branches that would have been ideal for Zacchaeus purposes. The sycamore produced an inferior type of fig that was consumed by the poor." Wealthy Zacchaeus runs, climbs and sits in a tree that feeds the poor and hungry of his community. What an interesting contrast it is that the pedestal that draws attention to the wealthy but spiritually needy man is the physical source of food for the physically wanting. Here something as simple as what we would recognize as a crab apple tree, becomes a source or healing and redemption for the chief tax collector.
Why do you think Zacchaeus would behave in such a "foolish" way?
Jesus chooses to invite himself to Zacchaeus' home. In our tradition today it would be rude to invite oneself to another person's home without knowing the person really well or being invited. Jesus was a Rabbi, a well-known teacher, and it was considered an honor to host him. "Luke's account of Jesus entering the house of Zacchaeus is the last of Jesus' encounters with outcasts before his entry into Jerusalem. Throughout the book of Luke, Jesus was mocked as "a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Luke 7: 34)."
Here again, Jesus blesses a person of questionable character who had stooped to running, climbing and sitting in a tree. Jesus stretches our understanding of compassion and forgiveness each time he blesses, helps, talks to and heals the unworthy individual. Jesus makes Zacchaeus' day, and everyone else began to grumble. Why is that?
With all the followers that Jesus could have chosen to stay with, why did he choose Zacchaeus?
Jesus' ministry among and too the lost, points to his true identity and ministry to all man and woman - kind. In Luke 18:25, Jesus expresses the challenge of wealth and relationship with him.
GOD'S WORD® Translation (©1995)
"Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."
Jesus truly understands the challenges we all face in drawing close to him. It could be the excess of things or the need of things that separates us from God. But, the statement at the end of Zacchaeus' story is one that should encourage all people in their journey to draw close to the creator.
"Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
Jesus isn't put off by the "challenges" we see in others and ourselves when it comes to reaching out with salvation. The son of Man came to seek out and save the lost. Jesus is looking for us, seeking after us, and not dissuaded by the hurdles that separate. Jesus simply crosses hurdle one by one until he stands at the base of the tree we're sitting in and asks us to come down and take him to our house. If you ever feel small or isolated like Zacchaeus, it's all right. Jesus still sees you and loves you and is waiting for you at the base of the tree.
People give up on lost things every day - Rings, wallets, stuffed animals, and much more. When things we love are lost they are separated from our point of reach. They become a memory and untouchable.
Earlier this week a man told me a story about his Aunt's lost wedding ring. While playing with her children in her yard one day, she bumped her hand in a round of tag and lost her wedding band. In spite of efforts to search the grass and surrounding yard, the ring remained lost. Six years later, her nephew saved some money and purchased a metal detector and recalled the memory of the lost ring. He portioned off the yard and square foot by square foot scanned the yard for the lost treasure. After only finding coins and bits of foil under the surface, the young man heard the ticking of the metal detector one last time on the last section of yard. He carefully scraped away the stone and soil to find his Aunt's gold wedding band nestled carefully in the ground setting upright as it had fallen six years ago.
The nephew had the optimism to look for the memory of a family heirloom that had been longs since thought too far gone.
People thought that Zacchaeus was a long-lost treasure that was to far gone to be recovered. There is an enslaving prejudice that limits and separates us from soul treasure when we think we know who people are and that they cannot change.
" Jesus stopped for a single person. "Today" came for Zacchaeus because he wanted to see so badly that he ran and climbed a sycamore. Today can be filled with joy because God is still at work bringing the kingdom and because words of grace that can still be spoken and forgiveness can still be experienced. What outrageous good news –against all the odds that would bury and separate – Jesus vision of hope helped a camel like Zacchaeus, like me and like you pass through the eye of the needle!" (Luke 18:25)
Jesus came to town that day and made some changes by re-discovering the treasure that turned out to be a revived and salvation drenched Zacchaeus. What buried treasure do we have in our community, our church and in our own hearts? May we surrender our lives to Jesus and know that salvation can and has come to our house today.