Another Tax-Collector

by Sean Foster on November 3, 2013

Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 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 he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give 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 Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’ Amen.

A. J. Cronin tells a story about the Adams family at the end of the Second World War. The Adams family decided to open their open to a little boy who was a refugee. The boys name was Paul Piotrostanalzi.

The Adams family had two daughters and a son named Sam. Sam and Paul became fast friends who were inseparable. They did everything together. But Paul was difficult and often got into trouble, disobeying Mr. Adams.

The story goes that Paul went swimming in contaminated water. He became very ill with a high fever and the family doctor suggested that Paul be isolated and moved into the attic bedroom away from the Adams family.

Sam missed Paul so much that one night he crept up the attic stairs and got into bed with Paul. Paul’s hot breath fell on Sam’s neck all night. The next morning, Sam too had a fever.

Paul eventually recovered, but Sam died within three days. It was a terrible tragedy for the Adams family.

About a year later, Dr. Cronin decided to pay a visit to the Adams family. As he pulled into their driveway, he saw Paul the refugee boy working the garden with Mr. Adams. This infuriated Dr. Cronin so much, he got out of his car shouting at Mr. Adams. What is this Pio-trudy, whatever his name is, doing here? Your son is dead because of that boy!

Mr. Adams looked at the doctor and then said quietly, Dr. Cronin, you wont have trouble with Paul’s name anymore, his name is now Paul Adams, we adopted him. It is a wonderful story of costly grace.

In the lesson read today from Luke’s Gospel chapter 19, we listened to a familiar story that we probably remember from our childhood days in Sunday School. And it’s not a difficult story at all.

The greater context of the story – Luke has Jesus making his way to Jerusalem to face the cross. But if you back up even more to chapter 10; before Jesus starts moving towards Jerusalem, Jesus sends out seventy of his followers ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where Jesus himself was going to travel.

So, it is important to keep in mind the fact that before Jesus actually goes into some of these towns villages and cities, some of his followers have already been in these places doing ministry, proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand.

One other little tidbit to keep in mind is the fact that Jesus gives these disciples who he sends out ahead oh him, specific instructions. He tells them: Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace be to this house.”

These disciples were sent out preparing the people for Jesus arrival and ministry.

So, by the time Jesus arrives in Jericho, some of his disciples had already been there doing ministry, healing casting out demons and preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.

Now the text doesn’t actually say this, but the writer assumes that we will have this in mind when we come to this story of Zacchaeus. It is highly probable that this man Zacchaeus who we encounter in our story today has already heard about this Jesus, and the strange instructions that he gave his disciples to carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. These disciples, these seventy followers of Jesus went out in faith trusting that God would provide for their needs. It is my own belief that Zacchaeus must have been intrigued with this Jesus of Nazareth.

So, we come to verse two of our lesson today, we are introduced to this wee little man Zacchaeus. Not only are we told that he is a tax collector, but we are told that he is the chief tax collector.

Now if you were here last Sunday, or read my sermon online, you would have learned a few things about tax collectors.

First of all, tax collectors are rich. But they are despised, hated and rejected by the Jewish people for the way that these tax collectors become rich and wealthy by the standards of this world. It was well known that tax collectors were thieves. They would charge two to three times more than the tax levied on a family and pocket whatever did not belong to Rome. Their pockets were lined with the money of their own people. It was stolen money. Now Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector. You can imagine that as the chief tax collector, this man was especially hated.

In verse 3 we read that when Zacchaeus learns that Jesus has entered the city, because he is short in stature and crowds have gathered to see this Jesus, Zacchaeus climbs into a sycamore tree, and you can almost here that childhood song in your ears now, for the Lord he wanted to see.

I am convinced that Zacchaeus was intrigued by this Jesus, who he has heard about and would love the opportunity to spend some time with him.

Now as our lesson reads, when Jesus comes to the place where Zacchaeus is up in the tree, Jesus looks up at him and asks him to come down, for I must stay at your house. So, not only does Zacchaeus get to see Jesus, he now has the opportunity to spend time with this fascinating man Jesus. The text reads: Zacchaeus received him joyfully.

But listen to the crowd as Jesus interacts with Zacchaeus. When they saw it, they all murmured, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner”.

Let’s remember that in this society, you do not, under any circumstances associate with known sinners. You don’t even wave a courteous hello. You ignore them. When they approach, you look the other way. Or head is down. To associate with a sinner, suggests that you too are a sinner. So when the people murmur to themselves, Luke adds this as commentary both on Zacchaeus, this chief tax collector, but it is also commentary on their thoughts about Jesus.

First impressions. Jesus enters the city and one of the first people he speaks to, and begins a relationship with is this tax collector and sinner. When they saw it, they murmured, Jesus has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner. You can hear how deflated these people are as they watch the two of them Jesus and Zacchaeus head off to Zacchaeus’ house. This Jesus is clearly not the man we thought him to be. He is not a holy man. He is not the Messiah. Talking to a sinner? Worse yet, going to stay at a known sinner’s house?

What is even sadder for me as I read this story again is the realization that there is no room for this sinner to repent and be reconciled with his kin, nor is there room to be reconciled with God. Zacchaeus is shunned. He is an outsider. He is ignored and avoided like the plague. There is absolutely no room for Zacchaeus to get right with God or even to reconcile with his fellow Jews.

Jesus provides a unique opportunity for Zacchaeus that would not otherwise be afforded to him. Jesus gives Zacchaeus hope that did not exist previously. It is the opportunity to get right with God. And hopefully in time to also be reconciled with his fellow Jews.

Luke doesn’t use the word repent, but that is exactly what Zacchaeus does. He repents of his sin. He repents of his greed and thievery. Behold Lord, he proclaims, half of my goods I give to the poor. AND. And, if I have defrauded anyone anything, I will restore it fourfold.

I mean, honestly, this is an incredible act of repentance and faith. Do you remember what Jesus said about the rich entering into the kingdom of God? Jesus said, rich getting into the kingdom of heaven, well, it is easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle. In other words, it is impossible.

But listen to the declaration of Jesus to Zacchaeus repentance of his sin. Today salvation has come to this house. Jesus even affirms that Zacchaeus, this Jew who has been ostracized, and out-casted, shunned and treated as if he did not even exist; Jesus even goes so far as to affirm that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham. I mean, how significant! How healing that must have been to hear and be reminded – Zacchaeus, you are a son of Abraham. You have been restored to your rightful place.

But it is the last verse of our lesson that has the greatest impact for us. In the last verse of our reading today, Jesus not only gives voice to his own purpose and mission, but to ours as well. Let me read it again, For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.

Jesus came to save, heal, and reconcile humanity back to God, and of course, I believe even more than that, I believe Jesus came to save, heal and reconcile the whole world. All of creation. But He came to mend the broken relationship between humanity and God. He came to deal with the sin that separates us from God. He sacrificed himself, making atonement for our sin, so that we would be forgive, made right and restored.

And indeed, as we come to this table today, we are celebrating what Christ has done for us, and continues to do for us. As bread is broken, we remember that his body was broken for our forgiveness and redemption. As we drink from the cup, we remember that Christ’s blood was shed and poured out for us so that we could be washed clean of our sin.

It is because God loves us that he did this for us.

But as I say, that last verse also speaks to our purpose, our mission as disciples, as followers of Jesus. His will becomes our will. His desire becomes our desire: to seek out and save the lost.

Now, of course, we have no power to save anyone. But we can invite people to be alive in Christ. We can introduce people to this Jesus who we call Savior and Lord. Friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, anyone. Sharing the good news of Jesus and his love.

I mean, I ask this question all the time, what does it mean to be saved? Salvation is being found by God and then following him, putting him first in our lives.

For Zacchaeus, putting God first meant that he first had to get rid of those things that distracted him from following God and putting God first in his life. He gave away half of his goods and was prepared to give fourfold the amount of anyone he had defrauded.

This wee little man who is so small in stature, he is a giant in the New Testament. I mean, what happened to Zacchaeus, is nothing short of a miracle. It is a wonderful story of costly grace. This man who no one would talk to or associate with because of his sin, Jesus risks his own reputation to provide an opportunity of hope, repentance, forgiveness and salvation.

What an incredibly gracious God, who loves us, and who adopts us, no matter what we’ve done. Our sin, killed his only Son, and he still loves us, and adopts us into his family. Isn’t that incredible. We are not that different from Paul Adams. What a wonderful story of grace.


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