Sunday, March 21, 2021

What If Zacchaeus Is Actually the Big Bad of Luke?; Sermon on Luke 19:1-10


Rev. George Miller

March 21, 2021

Luke 19:1-10


To fully grasp the gravity, we must fully grasp the depravity….  This statement may not make sense now, but hopefully it will at the end.


Tuesday, during Bible Study, we discussed today’s reading in great length.  One of our participants shared a song they learned as a child about Zacchaeus being a “wee little man.”


It sounded cute, innocent, and fun, but, like many of the biblical stories we teach our kids, there may be nothing cute or innocent about today’s reading.


Think of other biblical stories we share with kids that are not appropriate at all.


Noah and the ark- why do we teach kids about an angry deity that wipes out the world, not to mention, there’s a part where Noah gets drunk and is sexually violated by his son.


David and Goliath- how many Sunday Schools share that after David knocked Goliath over with his slingshot, he ran over, took out his sword, stabbed him in the back and chopped off his head?


Has Zacchaeus experienced a similar fate, seen as “cute” when perhaps this story is much, much darker? 


Is he more akin to the Big Bad Wolf than to one of Mary’s little lambs?


We have Zacchaeus, described as short in stature, scurrying about, climbing up a tree just so he can see Jesus.


There’s something comical about this image, almost as if Zacchaeus is a little squirrel or monkey.


His actions seems to be so pure and earnest.  He’s heard the newest popstar is in town and he just wants a glimpse.


But what if…. what if his actions are so kinetic, so intense because Zacchaeus actually has a lot of regret, and a lot of darkness in his life? 


After all, Zacchaeus is totally despised by everyone around him. 


He’s a tax collector.  “Big deal!” we may say, but back then it was a big deal.  Tax collectors were seen as non-patriots and traitors, working for the enemy.


In this story, the Roman government has taken over the Jewish territory of Jericho.  They’ve placed idols in the Temple; they use offerings to pay for infrastructure.


Their soldiers are in the streets stirring fear into the citizens, their rulers are living lavishly off the people’s money.


Tax Collectors could charge what they want, keep the change, and toss you in jail if you don’t meet their demands.


Zacchaeus is not just a tax collector- he is THE head tax collector.  He’s the Don, the Alpha, the apex of all tax collectors in town.


Zacchaeus may have been small in stature, but he was deep in pockets, with access to an unjust court system.


What if Zacchaeus is not cute at all?  What if he really is the Big Bad Wolf, the Wicked Witch of the West?


After all, he is the last person Jesus interacts with before entering Jerusalem.  This is the last outsider we meet before going into the Holy City.


What if Zacchaeus is meant to represent all that is really bad, sinful, lost, and undeserving?


We may not fully understand just how despised tax collectors were, but would we understand better if Zacchaeus’s name was Benedict Arnold?


What if Zacchaeus was a 1990’s crack dealer on the streets of Chicago?


What if Zacchaeus made his money by trafficking children?  If his name was Jeffrey Epstein or R. Kelly?


Can we now understand why someone like him would scramble up a tree?  Can we better understand why there would be grumbling in the street?


Can appreciate what a collective shock it would’ve been to all the faithful Jews around to hear Jesus say “Zacchaeus/Benedict/Jeffrey/R.- hurry on down for I must stay at your home.”


To fully grasp the gravity, we must fully grasp the depravity.


Perhaps we have misunderstood this story for the past 2,000 years. That it’s not “Oh look at Little Zacchaeus, what a monkey of a man.”


Perhaps this story is more like “Look at Zacchaeus- the one who can put your mother and father in jail and rip your family apart in one swift action.”


Perhaps this story is more akin to “Look at Zacchaeus- the one who can have an officer kneel on your neck for 7 and a half minutes.”


Perhaps this is Zacchaeus, the overseer, the racist southern sheriff, the gang lord of Haiti.


We see his scurrying around and climbing up a tree as cute, but what if those are actually the actions of someone who feels great guilt, such a sense of sin that his ramped-up physicality matches a deep pit of guilt stemming from unethical behavior, money stolen, and lives destroyed?


To fully grasp the gravity, we must fully grasp the depravity.


So, if all these suggestions are even partially true, it makes what Jesus does even that much more radical, amazing.


Instead of telling Zacchaeus he is

-going to hell

-publicly humiliating him,

-or telling him to say 10 Our Fathers and give all he has to the church,

what does Jesus do?


He says to this wretched outsider, this enemy of the people- “Zacchaeus-“


“Invite me into your home.”

“Bring me inside your life.”

“Let me spend some time with you.”


In the eyes of the people, if there is anyone who deserves the absence of God, if there’s anyone who deserves to be lost in the reeds and weeds, if there is anyone who deserves to have a house fall down upon them, it’s Zacchaeus.


But Jesus, Emmanuel, says “Here I am, Zacchaeus/Benedict/Jeffrey/R.- welcome me in.”


To fully grasp the gravity, we must fully grasp the depravity.


That gravity is GRACE.


Grace goes against all logic.  Grace transforms.  Grace goes beyond anything you, I, our Conference Minister, our General Minister, the Pope can ever manifest in our own life.


Grace, which says “No matter what, no matter who, God is going to enter into your life and be beside you.”


While others grumble against you, while others groan, Jesus says “Invite me over, let me.”


What if, what if all those parables in chapter 15 were designed to bring us to this very special moment.


What if the stories of the lost sheep, the joyful father, the woman with the broom who sweeps and sweeps until she finds that invaluable coin is really all leading up to this story?


This story of a man so squished by feelings of guilt that he just had to run up that tree, he had to see with his own eyes.


What if Zacchaeus had heard those stories of the sheep, the dad, the woman, and he said


“I’m tired, I’m tired.  I’m tired of feeling lost.  I’m tired of being in the reeds and weeds.  I’m tired of hurting others, I’m tired of hurting myself.”


What if Zacchaeus said, “I’m so tired of being tired that I’m ready to do anything I can to be found, even if it’s looking foolish, even if it’s being around people who hate me, even if its running up a tree like a monkey, a rat, or a snake?”


“If Jesus is really here to save the lost, then let him start with me.”


Friends, none of us are perfect.

None of us have hands that are clean.

All of us have done something unjust.

All of us have said something unkind.


All of us have missed chances to step unselfishly with the Lord.


But it does not mean we stop.

It does not mean we quit.


It does not mean we consider ourselves lost.  It doesn’t mean we give up on God.


It doesn’t mean that we give up on ourselves.


What it means is that we keep on keepin’ on. 


We keep climbing that tree.


We keep focused on grace that is amazing.


We keep mindful that if grace can be extended to someone like Zacchaeus, than grace can even be extended to a someone even like you, even like me.



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