Pentecost 23C. 2007
Luke 19:1-10

A Liturgy is also available


There are some stories in the Bible that are really good to tell.
One such made-up story, is the story of Zacchaeus.

According to Luke our storyteller, Zacchaeus was one of those people
Jesus seemed to like being around.
It’s hard to put a label on Zacchaeus.  Tradition has it:
      he’s short;
      he’s rich;
      he’s probably none too popular with his neighbours.
Hard to say.

Maybe he was picked on in the school ground when he was a young kid.
Maybe that’s why he so gladly took up the position as a toll collector,
      working his way to the top of the toll collecting franchise.

The bloke who skimmed off the top of those who skimmed off the top!


So with the help of others, let’s imagine the scene…

There’s a line of people gathered along Main street.
The sun is beating down.

There’s a rumour that this Jesus from Nazareth
has given sight back to the old blind fellow who lives down by the city gate.
      Zacchaeus, curious, and not wanting to miss the show,
      looks for some spot where he can get a good look at the procession
             as it makes its way through Jericho and on up to Jerusalem.

He asks a few people if he could squeeze past,
but he soon realises his lack of popularity
      makes it difficult to request favours for a ring-side seat.

There’s no way the crowd is going to let him in even for a quick look-see.

He looks around him at the trees that lined the street
and runs towards one as fast as he can.
      He grasps a lower branch firmly in his hands and pulls himself up.

As he continues on his climb up the tree he hears someone call out
“Hey look at the little bird” followed by bursts of laughter.
            Someone else calls out that his ‘nose looks like a beak’
            and the crowd erupts into more hoots and laughter.

Zacchaeus looks down at the faces in the crowd staring up at him.
“Peasants” he thinks to himself, as he makes himself comfortable...

As comfortable as one can while straddling a branch
four metres off the ground.

In a few minutes the Jesus-procession makes its way around a corner.

Suddenly, Jesus stops.
People bump into one another in surprise
as the momentum of the crowd is broken.

Jesus looks around him, his brow furrowed.
      Then he lifts his head skyward, or treeward to be more precise,
      and aims his gaze directly towards Zacchaeus.

“Give him hell preacher!” someone yelled out as Jesus opened his mouth to speak.
“Tell him to wise up!
“Clean up his act!
“Get out of town!”

But instead Jesus said: “Hey Zacchaeus, get down here!”

Again the crowd looks up at the little man on his branch.

Zacchaeus scans the crowd,
taking pride and delight in being singled out by this ‘intelligent’ rabbi.
      “Indeed, he must be a prophet”, Zacchaeus thinks to himself,
      “for he has recognised my position and authority in this city over this rabble.”

As Zacchaeus tries to scramble down out of the tree,
he feels its branches tugging at his cloak.
He’s a little self conscious now.
It’s one thing to have all the attention focused on you because of your authority or your wealth.
It’s another to have everyone’s attention,
and I mean everyone’s attention, directed at you,
while you are trying to scramble down a tree.

He reaches the ground and brushes himself off,
trying to straighten himself out so as to appear with some dignity.
      “Come on, let’s go,” Jesus commands with good humour.
      “We’re hungry.”

That’s when everything went quiet.
A buzz went around the crowd.

“For a smart young preacher, he sure doesn’t know much about people!”
“He can’t be serious!
“There isn’t a bigger crook in the country!

But he was serious.  This was no joke.  It caused a scandal.


Let me offer these couple of comments in passing.

We do an injustice to the story
if we reduce it to the cheap category of a wonder conversion.
This story is not about a so-called ‘soul being saved’, as one popular biblical translation puts it,
      but about transformation with revolutionary implications...

Preserved by people who cried out for justice,
and heavily biased towards compassion and change.

Barry Robinson in his eMail sermon The gospel in sycamore, puts it this way:
“What bothered the good people of Jericho was not so much what Jesus had to say... but the way he said it.

“It is one thing to believe in loving your neighbour, to believe in welcoming the lost, to believe in forgiving the guilty; but it is
quite another thing to practice what you preach, to actually practice doing it . That's what bothered people about Jesus.

“He not only said that we should love God and one another.  He actually went out and did it.  He didn't just say God's embrace
was wide enough to welcome everyone, he actually went out and embraced people no one else would.

“It upset the balance.  It was too unsettling to the way things were”.

The labelling of people to define the boundaries was not important to Jesus.
He just welcomed people aboard.

Because that's what Jesus seemed to be about:
finding and rejoicing and making whole.

My hope is, people will still want to stand on table tops
and climb trees, and go out on a limb!

• Acknowledgement is made of Barry Robinson, William Loader and Eric Muirhead who have helped seed the ideas and narrative for this sermon.  My contribution was to weave their thoughts together.