Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

A Wee Man and a Big Faith

“A Wee Man and a Big Faith”

For whatever reason, Zacchaeus is one my favorites of all of the Bible Characters. It may be that he has a great song with a catchy tune or because there is something fun about a short fella who climbs a tree…. but would we like the story so much if we replaced Zacchaeus in this story with Bernie Madoff who is famous for cheating people out of billions of dollars; out of their very livelihood - who I don’t know if he was a short person - but Zacchaeus, in reality, was not a lovable little wee man, may would have been the Jericho equivalent to Bernie Madoff…
We continue our Lenten journey with Jesus as he continues his trip from Capernaum to Jerusalem. We have traveled with him through Samaria and on the road from Samaria to Jericho and now we reach the city of Jericho. Jericho has a rich history throughout the bible and still exists today. It is believed to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and it still has the famous wall that was originally knocked down by Joshua.
Our story however starts in a small town outside of Jericho where as usual a crowd gathers around Jesus and he begins to tell his stories. He starts by telling a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who go up to the temple to pray.
Tax collectors in Jesus’ day were hated by everyone. The Romans, even though they hired the tax collectors; they saw the tax collectors for what they were, greedy traitors who were willing to prey on their own people cheating them for their own gain, working for the hated Roman oppressors, robbing people of their livelihood and their means to support their own family. And the tax collectors own people, their Jewish neighbors hated the tax collectors because they were greedy traitors who cheated them - it was such a slap in the face for your own to work for the enemy. Tax collectors were very wealthy and for the most part were not shy about letting people see how wealthy they were - of course from funds taken from the people…..
And remember Pharisees were the professional religious people - the ones who were suppose to be outstanding citizens, above reproach, people you were suppose to look up to for your moral example….
So Jesus tells the story about a proper Pharisee and a hated tax collector who go up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee stands where everyone can see him and lifts his arms to heaven and says “Thank you God that I am not like the bad people - like robbers and adulterers or like that tax collector. I fast and I tithe and I do all the right things.” And the tax collector stood at the back, bowed down and and would not lift his head or his hands to God in the typical way to pray and prayed, “God have mercy on me, for I am a sinner.” And Jesus says, “The one who is blessed, is the tax collector.” What a slap in the face to a group of people who thought the tax collectors were on the highway to Hell.
About this time a rich young man comes to Jesus and says, “I want to follow you!” And Jesus looks at him and says, “Fine. But first you have to give up all you have. Go do that and come back and you can follow me.” And we are told that the rich young man went away very sad, because he wasn’t willing to give all that wealth away.”
Remember these two people, the repentant tax collector and the reluctant young rich man as we go with Jesus into Jericho.
Jesus enters Jericho. News of his coming had preceded him and crowds had gathered to see Jesus as crowds did everywhere. Something had compelled Zacchaeus to go to see Jesus. But Zacchaeus was short - he was a wee little man - and with the crowds of people Zacchaeus was shut out - no one was going to help him; no one was going to move out of his way so he could see… so Zacchaeus does the only thing he can to be able to see Jesus which was to get somewhere above the crowd, so he climbs up a tree - a sycamore tree to be exact.


Jesus goes straight to the tree where Zacchaeus had climbed up, stopped and looked up and called Zacchaeus by name. How did Jesus know that Zacchaeus was in that tree? How did Jesus know that Zacchaeus was his name? Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down! I’m going to go to your house.” ‘There is so much wrong with this considering the social norms of the day. First of all it was not socially acceptable to invite yourself to someone’s home, even if you were the visiting celebrity and it was certainly tabu for a good Jew to go to the house of a tax collector. Entering a tax collector’s home would make you ‘unclean’ and very unpopular.
Zacchaeus comes down out of the tree and takes Jesus to his house. Can you imagine the surprise and the disgust of the people who hear this exchange and who see Jesus walking with this man, this tax collector, this greedy traitor. The crowd couldn’t understand how Jesus could actually share a meal with this sinner.
But Jesus didn’t see Zacchaeus as the citizens of Jericho saw him – Jesus saw someone whom God loves. Jesus saw someone who is precious, someone whom He has come to save.
What a contrast it would have been for Jesus, this plain, simply dressed former carpenter, to enter into this fine, luxurious, home with its rich furnishings and elaborate tapestries on the walls. The food would have been the top of the line, gourmet offerings, the finest of wine.
Jesus and Zacchaeus sit down and talked. We don’t know what the conversation might have been, but by the end of it we know that Zacchaeus’ life was transformed. He looked at Jesus and said “Today I am giving half of everything I have to the poor and the people I have cheated I am going to pay back 4 times over!” Amazing what Jesus can do - and did you catch the difference between Zacchaeus and the rich young man who couldn’t follow Jesus because he wasn’t willing to give anything up for Jesus?
Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Zacchaeus, I knew when I saw you up in that tree that you had a true desire to change your life. I knew that if you went to that effort just to see me, there was a desire within you to get to know me, to understand what I was all about….. Zacchaeus, today you have understood the grace God has showered on you.”
Jesus then looked at the crowd and said, “This is why I came. I came to seek and find the ones who have lost their way; to show them there is a new way, a better way to live. To find those that have lost their way and just need some help getting back on track.”
Zacchaeus serves as evidence of all the possibilities present in the presence of Jesus. Everything about the story of Zacchaeus seems impossible -- that a chief tax collector would want to see Jesus; that Jesus sought him out and knew his name; that Jesus would stay in his home; that it would be revealed that this sinner exceeded what the law required as restitution for the money he extorted by his generosity to the poor and the people he cheated; that Jesus would declare not just him but his whole household saved because of Zacchaeus’ transformation. Yet just earlier Jesus declared that what is impossible for mortals is nevertheless possible for God (18:27). Perhaps Zacchaeus is one more example of the impossible possibility that Jesus embodies and regularly manifests.
Maybe for us Zacchaeus represents what Jesus can do in our lives. As we get caught up in all our physical needs - clothing, shelter, food, even fun and work - we forget about our spiritual needs, our need for a relationship with God, the need we have for Jesus in our lives in a real way, in a way that will transform us and help us to grow into the people Jesus knows we can be - just like the man he knew Zacchaeus could be.
This Lent, take time to consider the spiritual side of your life, listen as Jesus calls your name….
Amen.