Weekly Sermon Illustration: Zaccheus
In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.
On November 3, 2013 we will celebrate the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost. Here is this week's reading from the gospel of Luke:
He 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."
Here is Buechner's description of Zaccheus, originally published in Peculiar Treasures and again later in Beyond Words:
Zaccheus stood barely five feet tall with his shoes off and was the least popular man in Jericho. He was head tax-collector for Rome in the district and had made such a killing out of it that he was the richest man in town as well as the shortest. When word got around that Jesus would soon be passing through, he shinnied up into a sycamore tree so he could see something more than just the backs of other people's heads, and that's where he was when Jesus spotted him.
"Zaccheus," Jesus said, "get down out of there in a hurry. I'm spending tonight with YOU" (Luke 19:5), whereupon all Jericho snickered up their sleeves to think he didn't have better sense than to invite himself to the house of a man that nobody else would touch with a ten-foot pole.
But Jesus knew what he was doing. Zaccheus was taken so completely aback by the honor of the thing that before he had a chance to change his mind, he promised not only to turn over fifty percent of his holdings to the poor but to pay back, four to one, all the cash he'd extorted from everybody else. Jesus was absolutely delighted. "Today salvation has come to this house," he said (Luke 19:9), and since that was his specialty after all, you assume he was right.
Zaccheus makes a good one to end with because in a way he can stand for all the rest. He's a sawed-off little social disaster with a big bank account and a crooked job, but Jesus welcomes him aboard anyway, and that's why he reminds you of all the others too.
There's Aaron whooping it up with the Golden Calf the moment his brother's back is turned, and there's Jacob conning everybody including his own father. There's Jael driving a tent-peg through the head of an overnight guest, and Rahab, the first of the red-hot mamas. There's Nebuchadnezzar with his taste for roasting the opposition and Paul holding the lynch mob's coats as they go to work on Stephen. There's Saul the paranoid, and David the stud, and those mealy-mouthed friends of Job's who would probably have succeeded in boring him to death if Yahweh hadn't stepped in just in the nick of time. And then there are the ones who betrayed the people who loved them best such as Absalom and poor old Peter, such as Judas even.
Like Zaccheus, they're all of them peculiar as Hell, to put it quite literally, and yet you can't help feeling that, like Zaccheus, they're all of them somehow treasured too. Why are they treasured? Who knows? But maybe you can say at least this about it-that they're treasured less for who they are and for what the world has made them than for what they have it in them at their best to be because ultimately, of course; it's not the world that made them at all. "All the earth is mine!" says Yahweh, "and all that dwell therein," adds the Twenty-fourth Psalm, and in the long run, presumably, that goes for you and me too.