a grateful generous life
November 3, 2013
Roy W. Howard
Zacchaeus is not included in the pantheon of Saints that have gone before us. I think he belongs among those we remember on this day.
But who is Zacchaeus?
•Is he a cartoon figure, the subject of cute songs: Zacchaeus was a wee little man and wee little man was he, he climbed up in a sycamore tree for to see what he could see?
•Is he a crook who repents of his wicked ways and gives back the money that rightfully belong to others as sign of his faithful repentance?
•Is he a metaphorical prop in a cautionary moral tale for the corrupt nations of the West that have stolen the properties of the poor and should heed its implications by releasing the debts of all developing countries?
What Luke says is that Zacchaeus was a rich man, who worked for the Roman government collecting taxes. The chief tax collector was something like an entrepreneur hired by the government to collect monies required for tolls, customs and tariffs. He supervised persons who would do the actual collecting with the hope that there may be a profit in the end. The system, of course, was open to bribery, corruption and abuse. No surprise. Neither is it surprising that the tax collectors, and especially the chief ones, were despised among their own people. They were outcasts.
Once again, Luke shows us why Jesus is known as the friend of tax collectors and sinners. This is the sixth encounter that Jesus has with outcasts – tax collectors being the supreme example – joining them for a meal and conversation. Remember the tax collector who went away justified because the humble shall be exalted? Earlier Luke reminds us, all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to Jesus to listen to him. And “the religious leaders were grumbling among themselves saying, this man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
1. The text gives no evidence that Zacchaeus was corrupt or evil. He worked for the government in a job that was open to abuse and corruption and in that job he became a wealthy man. He was a good man in a corrupt system. As such he was an outcast, lonely and isolated in his own community. One more thing, he was curious about Jesus. Not mildly curious, but curious enough to climb up a sycamore tree see him when he came to town. Now that’s a true seeker.
So it begs a question. How curious are you about Jesus? What risks will you take to listen to him?
Zacchaeus didn’t let his status or his wealth keep him from following his desire to see Jesus. Getting ourselves in a position to pay attention to Jesus is the necessary action that opens our lives to whatever may come. Without getting ourselves in the right place, we remain captive to fear and without faith.
2. Isn’t it remarkable how Jesus always finds the outsider and welcomes him to his table? Of all the places for a rich man to be, sitting in a tree is not one of them. But Jesus finds him and invites himself to his home for dinner. How beautifully odd is that? I mean really; he is up in a tree! We have a word for Jesus’ gesture to Zacchaeus: grace: God’s undeserved favor toward us.
Notice what happens when Jesus invites himself into Zacchaeus’ life. The text says his home – but we know it’s his very life that is being invaded, not only his home. Two things happen in Zacchaeus in response to Grace: Gratitude and Generosity.
He is grateful because Jesus, the One whom he sought so deeply that he would risk his status and his wealth to climb a tree to see, accepts him. In turn, he is happy to welcome Jesus home. This is grace – to be accepted by God as you are, right now. There is something so wonderful here about man happily throwing open his heart to Jesus. Yes, his heart, not only his home. Amazing grace, indeed.
That begs another question. Do you know that God accepts you? Is this grace real for you today? Nothing is more important than this.
Generosity is the second thing that happened as a response to grace. God’s gracious favor so permeated the whole of hisvlife that it had to include his relationships with his neighbors particularly the poor. He gave away half his wealth to help the poor and promised to make good if he had defrauded anyone in his life.
Some say his generosity is a sign of his repentance. Maybe so; I say generosity is a response to Grace. Zacchaeus is accepted and as a consequence of this grace, he is filled with gratitude. He becomes a generous man. Grace does this to people. It makes us grateful and generous. It really is amazing. Jesus calls it salvation and declared it had come to Zacchaeus home that-very-day.
Grace. Gratitude. Generosity. These are the joyous signs of God’s salvation among us. Today, we dedicate our financial pledges to support the ministry of our congregation. I hope that your generosity will be a measure of your gratitude for God’s grace in your life. Amen.