Up a Tree, Without a Clue


The Pas Proper/Ordinary 31 – Pentecost + 21
Year C
3 November 2019

Isaiah 1:10-18
Psalm 32:1-8 pg 742
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

God of all holiness,
in your realm of glory,
those who are poor now will receive the kingdom
those who are hungry now will be filled,
and those who weep now will laugh and leap in joy.
Strengthen us by this vision,
so that, with the saints before us,
we may bring near your justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.

Today’s gospel is one that gets debated from time to time, more, in our own generation for what it doesn’t say than for what it does.

What it does say is that a man, who is a sinner, wants to see this Jesus guy, so he climbs a tree because he’s short. Jesus sees him and invites himself to lunch, and the man, in his haste to respond, comes down and in response to the negative muttering at Jesus words, declares he’s an honest man and will give back more than he took, if he’d ripped anyone off, and Jesus declares that he’s come to bring back those who are lost in the family of Abraham.

So, what did Zacchaeus, the man up a tree, hear when he came down to play host to Jesus? The gospel tells us: “7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”” (Lk 19:7)

In this passage, today, we see a man who knows, intimately, that he is a sinner. He knows what the community thinks of him, and yet knowing the level of condemnation leveled at him and his life, he wants to see Jesus.

So, what does this say for each one of us, today? After all, we’re not wealthy tax collectors who have been pushed to the martins of society by other people’s ideas of righteousness, right?

How do our preconceptions of others cause us to make judgements about them? And what does that say about us? About Zacchaeus? Or about The People, in today’s gospel?

Having said that, though, we know that we are unable to understand, right from the get go, what it is that Zacchaeus is truly looking for, today. What is it, we wonder he’s hoping to accomplish, as he climbs the tree to see out of curiosity in order to see Jesus pass by, and try to figure out what all the fuss is about. This is what we’re seeing.

But really, what Zacchaeus is looking for is forgiveness. And this is what we don’t see because even Zacchaeus cant articulate it for himself, yet.

He’s looking for for absolution, for the choices made in his life that have pushed him to the outskirts of society, probably because he is a man of financial affluence.

And, in today’s society, we have difficulty in understanding this because we know that Jesus died for each of our sins, that Jesus rose from the dead so that we are able to stand, redeemed, before God and we look for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives, every day.

Our perception of our place in society is different because we stand on the other side of the cross from Zacchaeus.

In our lives, we are forgiven by God, every time we confess and ask for God’s absolution, of the sins and errors of our lives, and our attempts to live better tomorrow than we do today, in the eyes of God and the Holy Spirit.

And when such absolution is ours for the asking, then it seems that we often find ourselves standing with the people of the community who are muttering because of where Jesus chooses to give his attentions when it isn’t in our direction.

“5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.” (Lk 19:5-6)

However, this is often where we lose the wider narrative, this is where our own assumptions make judgement calls on what our eyes see rather than what is taking place in Zacchaeus’ heart so that what we see may or may not be deserved, or appropriate about the people we meet in the daily walks of our lives.

As average, fallible human beings we are so often the cause of such misunderstandings in and for our lives. And because of this, regardless of race, creed, or colour, this misunderstanding, this idea of preconception is at the root of racism in the world around us, and we can see it in the way one person, or one group is perceived by another.

After all, in WWII, it wasn’t just the Jewish nation that was persecuted by the Nazi regime, but also the gypsies, and those who were deemed ‘less’ by mental faculties, or even physical differences that varied from an unrealistic ideal.

And such mindsets, unfortunately, persist today, when and how it suits to form lines in the sand between one segment of humanity and another. Instead, of like we see Jesus doing today, breaking down those barriers, crossing those invisible lines, and looking to include ideas that open our lives and our hearts because they’re different, because everyone is included in the love of God, not just a select few.

“5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”” (Lk 19:5-7)

But were not doomed to be condemned by such ideas and assumptions. Instead we’re able to ask for and receive God’s forgiveness and absolution in the same way Zacchaeus is, in the same way “all the people” are when they see Zacchaeus’ change of heart because of Jesus’ interaction in his life.

And, for as much as the outcome of Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus is so much more than he expected, Zacchaeus is overjoyed to be able to host Jesus for lunch.

According to today’s gospel text, all Zacchaeus wanted was to see Jesus. Instead he’s seen by Jesus.

All he wanted was to know what all the fuss was about around Jesus. Instead he finds himself in the presence of the one who takes away the sin of the world.

But it goes so much further than that.

All Jesus wanted was lunch. Instead Zacchaeus in the euphoria of being a man no longer misunderstood, but one so moved to generosity by God’s forgiveness that this wealthy man gives his wealth away, unconditionally.

“6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”” (Lk 19:6-8)

Now, in all of this, have we seen Zacchaeus ask Jesus to forgive him for the burden of being a wealthy man, that led him to be a tax collector for the Romans?

In all of this have we seen Jesus do anything other than invite himself to Zacchaeus’ house for lunch?

And yet so much more has happened. All of the things we haven’t seen in the words of the passage, but they’re there for those who have the eyes to see them.

In today’s parable, in this passage, we see the people have their eyes opened. We see them have a reason to re-evaluate how they have judged and made assumptions about how Zacchaeus has acted as a tax collector.

The assumption was that as a tax collector, Zacchaeus was cheating people out of their money in order to maintain his position of wealth, and still pay the taxes demanded by the Romans, after all, that’s what everyone else does.

But this isn’t the case. Instead, “Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Lk 19:8)

So, today, both by what we do and what we don’t see in today’s passage, we are encouraged not to judge people by appearances, or by their current occupation. After all, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have more in mind for each one of us than we could ever imagine.

And I know this because if I had stayed in North Bay, and not moved about Ontario, or had the life experiences I’ve gained since I was 15, then I would have become a library technician, not the person you see before you, today because that was my plan, at that point in my life.

So, if something had not happened, in your life, where would your choices have taken you? What would be seen or interpreted of how you present to the world?

Seeing how Jesus sees Zacchaeus, and responds to his unspoken need to receive forgiveness, absolution, new life, how are our lives changed? How are we able to see the world differently than we already do? How does Jesus see each one of us? Are we in the same boat as Zacchaeus? Or perhaps in a different boat with the decisions and circumstances of our lives?

Conversely, how do we see others?

In every topic, in every arena of discussion, we need to look beyond what society wants us to see to see the potential of the person inside.

A good example of this was the film “Working Girl” (1988) where the main character, Tess, had the skills to be more than just a secretary, but her circumstances, her gender, and her accent kept the investment community from taking her seriously, until they had no other choice because she had proven herself, to the chagrin of her boss.

This is Zacchaeus, today.

This is each one of us, when we have the skills, and the desire to be seen as God sees each one of us, as we have the ability to overturn what the neighbours think just because we hold a certain job or present ourselves in a certain way.

Because when we do receive God’s absolution for the choices in our lives that makes the world see us in a certain way, “9 Jesus [says] “Today salvation has come to this house, because [you], too, [are a child] of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”” (Lk 19:9)


About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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