How many of us know someone we don’t like very much? More accurately, how many of us know a category of people we don’t like very much? Because that is what Jesus is getting at here. Jesus is hanging out with someone everyone else hates. Just to review, everyone hates tax collectors in Jesus’ day. Tax collectors go around, well, collecting taxes. But they take these taxes and work it out by taking some off the top, hence the reason that Zacchaeus is rich. AND hated.
So Jesus wants to hang out with this guy that everyone hates and who is a sinner. This seems bad to ‘All who saw it’. It seems bad to ‘All who saw it’ because you weren’t supposed to hang out with sinners. Like we talked about a couple weeks back, sin was apparently like cooties and if you were around a sinner then sin might jump onto you and you’d be a sinner without even doing anything. Even so and to everyone surprise, Jesus wants to hang out with Zacchaeus.
This isn’t just a simple matter of Jesus tolerating the fact that Zacchaeus exists. Jesus says, “Dude, Come on down! I’m coming over to your place!” It’s one thing to tolerate being around a tax collector and sinner but to invite yourself over is a whole ‘nuther level of compassion and acceptance. Of someone everyone hates. And is a sinner.
The other point of the Zacchaeus story is just as difficult to deal with. Zacchaeus is supposed to be despised by everyone and yet he still wants to see Jesus. Zacchaeus must be onto something here because it isn’t the usual practice to go traipsing after someone who will not like us. Sometimes our life circumstances put us in that situation but isn’t the usual thing. And here, Zacchaeus is seeking Jesus out on purpose. That’s a very good idea.
Another challenge that we are reminded of is that Zacchaeus is a rich man and with Luke that has a particular meaning. Rich people can’t be people of faith apparently. That whole easier for a camel to get through an eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to get to heaven bit. While I think that is a bit of hyperbole, a rather large exaggeration for effect, it is also true that money and things can get in the way of our faith. We probably all know someone that blew off worship because they had to a) go somewhere cool with their stuff or b) had to stay home and take care of their cool stuff.
Which makes what happens next all the more powerful. Zacchaeus does what we do when we encounter Christ. We respond to his, that is Christ’s, call on us. That’s how it works. We don’t do stuff to keep God happy, we respond because of what Christ has done on our behalf. We don’t do the good things to look good in front of God, we do the good things because God has already been good to us.
And once Jesus gets ahold of Zacchaeus, so begins a transformed life for Zacchaeus. The effect of Jesus on Zacchaeus is profound and all encompassing. Zacchaeus responds so strongly to Jesus’ presence in his life that he gives half of his stuff to the poor and for anyone he has cheated he will pay back quadruple. Wow! Go Zacchaeus go! And all who are here and reach need to do likewise, right? If Christ has touched your life then it’s time to respond and be like Zacchaeus! Cough up half of your stuff! Isn’t that what it says?
Well, it says that’s what Zacchaeus did. But the point of the story is in a slightly different train of thought. Luke is highlighting the fact that money, cheating people, having a job that requires dishonesty can all be things that get in the way of our faith. I haven’t met many people who would argue that idea. And that is part of why we’re asked to be generous people. Don’t let money and things get in the way of our faith.
The other reason we’re called to be generous is to feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner and heal the sick. Followers of Christ are called to these things and our generosity is what makes that happen.
All because Christ died on the cross for us. That’s the transformed life. That’s the result of the work that God in Christ has down through us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Zacchaeus is a new creation and so too are we new creations.
The only question we really have to ask ourselves is simply to ask if Christ is making a difference in our lives. Seems like a simple question but I wonder sometimes if we don’t treat faith as too much of a thinking exercise and not enough of experiencing exercise. We know all the things but are we making every opportunity to live out all the things?
It can certainly mean big changes in our lives. Turning away from any number of sinful and damaging behaviors. That’s a good thing of course but also maybe why people hold back a little. Big changes in our hearts and minds is a frightening kind of thing to come face to face with.
It’s like telling a toddler to clean up their room. No question the rooms needs cleaned but for someone small the idea of cleaning up an ENTIRE is so mind-blowingly large that it becomes overwhelming. So overwhelming that pitching a fit seems like a better option. Certainly an option that is more familiar and better understood. I mention toddlers here but the same dynamic applies to people who are adulter, too. We just don’t pitch a fit when the task seems too overwhelming. Usually, at least not in the past 10 days or so.
Maybe a better approach to cleaning up our room is to break it down into the smaller tasks that aren’t so overwhelming to think about. Likewise, when it comes to a transformed life we can think in terms of the small changes that collectively add up to big changes. Do the small things that add up to big things.
Lent is a good time to give that some thought. Some thought to the small things that we can change in our day as we seek to follow Christ more closely. I can’t answer what that would be for any one person though I’m happy to have a conversation over the beverage of your choice and kick around some ideas.
Some small ideas that might end up as big changes.