How many people have we read about in the Bible that was good prospective candidates for a recovery group?
Let’s read Luke 19:1-10
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus who was chief tax collector and a very rich man. 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 Jesus was going to pass that way.
When Jesus reached that spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he scurried down and welcomed him warmly (into his home). All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of someone who is a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, “Look, sir, I’ll give half of what I own 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 Adam came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Zacchaeus Joins the Group
God comes to collect our garbage – not to be impressed by our goodness.
• … After 32 years of watching people get the courage and the faith to change,
I’m convinced that we don’t always arrive at “faith” through our thinking but we most often catch it from someone who’s already got it”.
We just read the story of a strange, little man named Zacchaeus – A man who caught his faith from Jesus.
And there’s a lot about Zacchaeus that we don’t know.
His story in the gospel is just about as short as he was.
But what we do know is that Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho.
He was a Jewish traitor working for the Roman army and he collected unbelievably high taxes from everyone passing through on the road to Jerusalem.
And Jericho was a place that you almost had to pass through if you wanted to get to Jerusalem –so he had himself a really good spot.
Now those tax collectors had to turn over most of what they collected to the Romans.
But whatever one of those guys could charge over and above the minimum tax – well that was theirs to keep.
So crooked and greedy little Zacchaeus charged people as much as he could; and he racked up quite a few shekels by doing’ it.
What we can also be pretty sure of from his story – is that this guy was hated by just about everybody who ever passed through that town.
In writing his gospel stories, Luke loves to tell about sinners and outcasts;
He tells us about how they were drawn to Jesus, because Jesus was always first drawn to them.
While all of their neighbors shunned these outcasts and kicked them out of their group, this man Jesus sought them out and befriended them.
He healed their wounds – He invited them to eat with him –
He told them that God loved them.
– If you were an outcast – being welcomed and being loved – that came as some pretty Good News!
… And so Zacchaeus must have heard some of these stories about Jesus making the rounds
– And now he hears that today Jesus is passing through his own town.
He’s curious to know him.
• The gospel says, “He was trying to see who he was.”
Trying to see if the stories he’d heard about him were true.
But Little Zacchaeus can’t see because the crowds are swarming all around Jesus and because he’s too short to see over their heads.
Notice that none of that stops him, because this visitor to Jericho is really important to him.
Zacchaeus runs ahead and he finds a sycamore tree to climb – and there he sits, literally hanging way out on a limb, waiting for Jesus and the crowd to come passing by below.
And when Jesus finally does come to that spot in the road, he stops the procession.
He sees this little man sitting’ way up there in the tree – and Jesus already knows him
Jesus already knows part of this guy’s story.
Jesus knows he’s one of the outcasts – One of the ones who feel himself: “unworthy” –
The people in the town see a crook and a liar and a thief – but Jesus sees another one of “the lost.”
Perhaps when Jesus arrived in Jericho, he stopped into a meeting of Outcasts Anonymous and some of the Old Timers told him all about Zacchaeus
They told him he was probably the most hated man in their town.
And so Jesus looks up into that tree and he calls him by name,
“Hey Zacchaeus, come on down here! – I’ve got to go to your house today – and I want to have supper with you tonight too.”
Right away, a murmur starts rippling through the crowd.
The good people of Jericho aren’t too pleased with Jesus’ choice for a new-found-friend.
“He’s calling out the most hated man in Jericho.
The people in that town who should have been “counted in” are counted out – and this hated man who everyone counted out – “he’s in!”
In another gospel story, Jesus puts it like this.
He says: “Prostitutes and tax collectors are getting into God’s kingdom – but the proud are locking them out.”
Zacchaeus scurries down from the tree while all his neighbors are jeering and hurling insults at him –
None of it slows him down a bit! – He leads Jesus to his house and he invites him to come in.
And now there comes a part of Zacchaeus story that we don’t get to hear.
What was it that Jesus said to him there inside his own house?
What words did he use to change him?
Because Zacchaeus not only took Jesus into his home, but when he comes out and stands there next to him, it’s obvious to everyone in town that he’s taken him into his heart as well.
Zacchaeus stands in front of all his neighbors: a changed man.
Jesus’ faith in him made a changed man out of the cheating’, little tax collector.
“Half of all that I own I’ll give to the poor; and if I’ve cheated anyone of anything, I’ll pay ‘em back four times as much.”
This guy went from taking Step One – to finishing Steps Eight & Nine all inside of a single day!
And so Jesus tells the crowd to rejoice over what’s happened to Zacchaeus, because he’s not the same man anymore.
“Today salvation has come to this man’s house, because he too is a son of Abraham.”
The outcast has come home.
The despised and rejected one’s been brought back and welcomed into the family.
Jesus says to the crowd, “You see why I’ve come?
I’ve come to seek out and save the lost.”
But the good people of Jericho thought Jesus was coming to see them!
They thought he’d probably have dinner that night with the mayor of Jericho.
Maybe he’d stop in and give a nice little speech at the Jericho Chamber of Commerce or go say something holy and profound to all of “the good people” gathered in the temple.
After all, it was the good people who threw a procession in his honor – But what does Jesus do?
He spots a sinner up a tree and he takes off and spends the whole day with the most hated man in their village!
There’s a powerful message in this story.
I think it’s a message about the outcasts who live inside each one of us.
A message about those hated and shameful parts of us that we’ve all tried to bury and forget, parts that we try to push down and cover over so no one will see them – maybe not even ourselves.
But those parts have a way of coming out again and stalking us down.
Maybe it is shame from a childhood where we were born unwanted or told we were no good.
Maybe it’s the outcast part of us that we carry from marriage that went bad or the ghosts from a family we walked out on.
Some of us have done some pretty rotten things in Jericho!
“Things done and left un-done!”
… But today we read a man’s story.
And this little guy’s story’s been told for 2,000 years because there’s something he’s got that we all need to catch.
The guy found hope – He found hope when everyone said he was hopeless.
And within a few short hours of finding that hope: he was changed.
Zacchaeus was desperate – ready to go to any lengths.
Zacchaeus had his first AA meeting in a tree, I think, just like Zacchaeus, I have had to climb a few trees cause there was no place else for me to go.
We don’t know what it was that those two men said to one another when they were huddled together inside that house, but I’ve got to believe that what Zacchaeus took with him into the house that night was a big part of what changed him.
He carried in all of his shame and all of his guilt.
He put those feelings of being an outcast – a thief – a traitor – he put them into his own words and he told his story to Jesus.
And Jesus listened — and Jesus loved him.
What happens to us when we take the risk and share our real stories with God & with other people?
Neither God or the people hearing us run away.
Neither God or the people hearing us condemn us.
Maybe for the first time in years, we’re welcomed back home.
We’re not treated like outcasts any more.
And so just like Zacchaeus, we all need to be changed.
Changed by the unconditional love and acceptance that comes from a God who drops whatever he’s doing and comes running after us.
And once we’ve tasted his love – and once we’ve felt his acceptance & experienced his forgiveness, then drinking & drugging & tax collecting & prostituting, they just don’t have that much to offer us anymore.
… Jesus said, “I came to seek out and to save the lost.”
He comes again offering us the same.
And so, what’s Zacchaeus trying to tell us?
Maybe it’s simply this:
If you haven’t shared all of your story – If you haven’t shared your shame with God & with another human being – then please – before the parade passes you by again –
Get down from the tree and do it!