Zaccheus Wanted To See Jesus – December 2, 2006

Message 2 of 3 from the Chapel Hill Saturday Night series. There’s a link to the first message hidden in plain sight below.

Result from round two: why, yes, it DOES work when you only prepare two pages’ of text, instead of three-and-a-half.

Thanks to those of you who came out tonight! It REALLY did my heart good to see you there. Please, if you haven’t already done so (or if you don’t completely forsake teh MySpace) add the Chapel Hill Saturday Night page as a friend and help support us!

And we go again next Saturday night, same time – when I’m no longer so mental over finals.

Here’s my text…


So, let me tell a story.

You can find the story in your bible (around Luke, chapter 19) but forgive me if I don’t read it straight out. Many of you have heard many of these words repeated many times. I want to look at the story fresh.

The story is of a little guy by the name of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a tax collector by trade, in a day when tax collectors are even more hated than we hate the IRS. All things considered, we have a grudging trust for the IRS – we have a half-decent sense that the money we actually give to the government will go there. But Zacchaeus was taking taxes in a place where he wasn’t claiming taxes for the local government – he was claiming taxes for Rome, and Rome was not investing the money back in Jericho, let’s put it that way.

Zacchaeus was also rich in a place where he was surrounded by poor people. And this led to a pretty massive amount of hatred, and it was easy to suspect where Zacchaeus might have gotten his money from. Heck, it would be very easily to justify hatred of Zacchaeus – if he’s got all this money, and Jericho doesn’t have all this money, and Zacchaeus is a tax collector, well, the guy must be skimming it off the top. Zacchaeus is the quintessential villain, the mandatory bad guy every story needs.

And evidently he’s heard a good bit about Jesus. Because Jesus comes to Jericho. And Zacchaeus absolutely, positively has to go see him.

Now, this next part of the story is what’s familiar to every child who grew up in Sunday school. I meant “little guy” literally earlier; Zacchaeus is quite short. Zacchaeus goes out to see Jesus and sees him basically walking a parade route, and the streets are lined with people. Of course, Zacchaeus can’t see over the crowds, and every attempt for him to get a place where he can see out fails. Maybe there were some people who saw him coming, crowded him out, nudged him out of the way. More likely, the people were just so enraptured with the chance to see Jesus that they didn’t see Zacchaeus trying to get his place.

Finally, Zacchaeus comes upon a sycamore tree. Perfect. Shamelessly, Zacchaeus climbs up.

Jesus comes through to a rock star’s reception, of course. After all, this is the same Jesus who has championed society’s rejected, its poor, people of ill repute, people of different races, and in the eyes of the people on the street, he’s leading a populist crusade. We don’t know what Jesus thought of this particular reception, and quite frankly, Jesus probably had other things on his mind.

Like Zacchaeus.

Jesus surveys the gathered people, sees Zacchaeus, and to the crowd’s amazement, makes a beeline for the sycamore tree. To the crowd’s utter horror, the following words are the first they hear Jesus say: “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.”

This doesn’t work. This does not fit with our expectation of Jesus. This guy might be the richest guy in town – and ill-gotten riches, at that! This is the guy Jesus is supposed to explode at, to accuse forcefully of all the poverty in Jericho – after all, obviously Zacchaeus has profited at this town’s expense! This is the bad guy! And here Zacchaeus is, bounding out of the tree, making all nice with the guy who’s supposed to be on our side! What’s Jesus doing with him? “What business does Jesus have getting cozy with this crook?”

Well, that’s one way to kill your rock-star status. Jesus must not have cared about his popularity with the people all that much. He must have been after something more important.

Like Zacchaeus.

Listen to the exchange between Zacchaeus and Jesus:

“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Now, if the mere thought of Jesus associating with Zacchaeus was galling, the idea of Jesus calling Zacchaeus “a son of Abraham” – a member of the most heralded family of the faith – had to send them completely over the edge. What exactly was Jesus seeing that they weren’t?

I think it’s very straightforward. Jesus was seeing Zacchaeus’ humanity.

It’s one thing to say that we’re good, moral, God-seeking church people, doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing while in our own little enclave. But when Jesus breaks through, he sees beyond who we are. He sees the people outside our walls who want a glimpse in, and who find themselves blocked out.

Maybe we see a person outside our walls that for whatever reason – because of their poverty or because of their wealth, because of their looks and dress and number of tattoos, maybe because of their race – we don’t want to let in. That may be true for some of us, but for most of us I’ll wager we don’t think that clearly. I’ll bet that we don’t let somebody who wants to see Jesus in because we get so enraptured in the church, we get so enraptured with our worship style, we get so enraptured by this good thing we have ourselves – we get so enraptured that we forget that there are people outside of these walls.

But there are. And when Jesus finds them, and when Jesus starts to work on them, we should not reject them. In fact, we should be prepared for transformation to be already happening to them.

There are any number of statistics I can point to that speak to the state of our own denomination in terms of bringing in people from the outside – and I commend to you a quick scan of the United Methodist News Service at for plenty of those. But – as much as I cherish this denomination and want to remain in the Methodist Church – this denomination is dying. There are churches in this denomination today that might not even exist in twenty years, ten years, even five years. And there are plenty of churches in other denominations that are in equally ill health. Those of us in these churches, we have to honestly ask ourselves if we are doing everything we can, not merely to try to make our church survive, but to begin to legitimately demonstrate Christ outside our walls for this generation and for generations to come.

And if we see people being transformed by Jesus outside of these walls, we need to welcome them, not condemn them and condemn those who reached out to them. While we play “church”, Jesus is at work. We need to pay attention. We need to see what we can learn.


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