At church this morning, the pastor was preaching about the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus was a rich tax collector, and tax collectors were unpopular among Jews because there were tax collectors who defrauded people or exacted more than was due to them (Luke 3:13), growing rich as a result. Jesus was passing through Jericho, and Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree to see who Jesus was, since Zacchaeus was a short man. Jesus came, looked up, and told Zacchaeus that he (Jesus) would be coming to stay at Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus came down from the tree and welcomed Jesus. People standing there were grumbling that Jesus was about to be the guest of a sinner, and Zacchaeus told Jesus that he (Zacchaeus) would give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back fourfold those whom he defrauded. Jesus said that salvation has come to this house, for Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham, and the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
The pastor talked about a variety of topics. He was jokingly, yet honestly, saying that he tended to view himself as a low-level sinner, regardless of what his Methodist theology teaches him. He said that he felt that he was not as bad as some sinners, and not too bad of a sinner, period. (He seemed to be implying that this was not how he was supposed to feel, but it was still how he honestly felt.) He likened Zacchaeus to Bernie Madoff, who stole millions from people and destroyed people’s lives. The pastor asked if God’s grace can run that deep, and he referred to a church he attended that reached out to addicts. The pastor was contrasting the beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew with the beatitudes in the Gospel of Luke. Matthew’s beatitudes bless the poor in spirit and those who hunger for righteousness (Matthew 5), whereas Luke’s beatitudes bless the poor and hungry, while proclaiming woe to the rich, the full, and the popular (Luke 6). The pastor also referred to the Parable of Lazarus: the afflicted poor person went to Abraham’s bosom after his death, whereas the rich man went to Hades, a place of torment (Luke 16). One can add Mary’s Magnificat to the list of Luke’s passages about the rich and the poor: it talks about God lifting up the poor and hungry, while bringing down the proud and powerful and sending the rich away empty (Luke 1:52-53). The Gospel of Luke appears to be anti-rich. Yet, here Jesus is, reaching out to rich Zacchaeus! The pastor said that Jesus was not standing with his arms crossed, waiting for Zacchaeus to offer to make restitution; that was something that Zacchaeus himself decided to do, but Jesus was just reaching out to lost Zacchaeus. The pastor inquired why Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, and he speculated that it was because Zacchaeus was lonely. The pastor then said that there are ways in which each of us is lost, or has been lost, and Jesus seeks and saves us. And, even if we consider ourselves lower-level sinners, the pastor said, we can make restitution to people.
I’ll let my summary of the story and the sermon stand, without adding too many thoughts of my own. Even if I may not always consider myself to be as bad as than certain sinners, I should still remember that Jesus is compassionate towards all sinners, desiring their restoration.
One part of the story that stands out to me is Jesus’ statement that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house because Zacchaeus, too, is a son of Abraham. Is Zacchaeus now a son of Abraham because of his repentance? I think of John the Baptist’s statement in Luke 3:8, encouraging people to bear fruit of repentance rather than seeking refuge in their status as Abraham’s children. Zacchaeus was an Israelite, like the other Israelites there, but perhaps his repentance was his affirmation of what being an Israelite ethically and spiritually entailed. Or maybe Jesus was saying that the other Israelites there should accept Zacchaeus as a fellow son of Abraham, with an identity as part of God’s chosen people: they should have compassion for that sinner and desire his repentance, as opposed to looking down on him and criticizing Jesus for reaching out to him. They should embrace and applaud Jesus’ outreach to Israel, God’s chosen people, and Jesus’ outreach to Zacchaeus was a part of that. Or maybe part of it was Jesus telling Zacchaeus that he was a son of Abraham, a part of the community of God’s people: Zacchaeus could see himself as part of a community as opposed to separating himself from the community through his exploitation of his fellow Israelites. Zacchaeus did not have to feel so lonely, for he was part of something larger than himself.