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11-3-19 Sermon

Luke 19:1-10

Dear Heavenly Father, we stand awestruck before Your presence. You reveal Your heart in Your crucified Son. By the power of the Holy Spirit, give us such words and wisdom that Your enemies may neither withstand nor contradict its witness. Keep it steadfast in faith; unwavering in endurance, diligent in services, and joyful in hope. We pray in Jesus name. Amen

Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life—and have it abundantly.” As American Christians living in a land of abundance, we have been tempted to envision the abundant life that Jesus promised us as a life of more—more money, more things, more power, more fun, more adventure, more, more, more.

In the popular Sunday School version, Zacchaeus is simply another vertically challenged person. He was short. Zacchaeus was also a chief tax collector. He was a rich and powerful man. He lived a lifestyle that many people admired, and of which they were envious. Though on the surface Zacchaeus appeared to have it “made in the shade,” he obviously sensed that something was missing in his life.

Jesus reaches out with the message of salvation and reconciliation. Zacchaeus is different from many of the others, because he is a wealthy man, but he is unpopular because of the manner in which he got his wealth. So when Jesus picks him out from the crowd, treats him as a friend, it becomes a feel-good kind of story. The underdog is lifted up and made special, and everyone is happy. Not so.

 

Zacchaeus was no more popular at the end than he was at the start, and Jesus by befriending him, is distinctly less popular. And the crowd was ready to rumble. All—not just some of them. “This Jesus has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” Now we are quite used to hearing of such grumbling after Jesus goes partying with some outcast but this is different--because normally we hear that the scribes and the Pharisees complain, but this time absolutely everybody is upset.

 

Zacchaeus was despised, hated, loathed. The lowest of the low, a despicable scumbag. He had turned against his own people and collaborating with the enemy. Zacchaeus was despised-- an outcast even to the other outcasts.

People believed that if they could just purge the community of this person, the world would be a better place. Everyone saw Zacchaeus as the epitome of evil.

So when Jesus calls Zacchaeus down and starts treating the town scumbag as an old friend, everybody, just everybody, begins to object and complain.

 

But can you see what is happening here? Jesus breaks the anti-Zacchaeus sentiment, by becoming the one the crowd ridiculed. Part of the glue that holds the Jericho community together is their shared hatred of Zacchaeus. But Jesus breaks ranks. He reaches out the hand of friendship and mercy to the far-from-innocent victim and opens up a way for Zacchaeus to turn his life around and make good on the wrongs he has committed. But at what cost does Jesus do that?

 

At the cost of becoming the innocent victim himself. When a community defines itself by who it is against — by who it wants to keep outside its borders, and who it wants to lock up and throw away the key, and who it wants kept off the streets and away from ordinary decent folk — when a community defines itself that way, and nearly every community does, if it loses the target of its angst it must quickly find another one or it will begin to fray at the edges. And so when the folks of Jericho see the consensus fracture and Zacchaeus lifted above his status as the community victim, they have to turn on another. And who do they turn on? You guessed it: ‘All who saw it began to grumble and said, “This Jesus has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”’ This Jesus. This bloke is undermining the foundations of our society. This bloke is the prime example of everything that is wrong, of all the loss of standards and loss of values in our community. This bloke is a blasphemer, a threat to religion, an enemy of the people. This bloke must be got rid off.

 

And so proceeds another step in the demise of Jesus, and so salvation comes to another house and saves another victim. Jesus is passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, and this sort of thing has been going on for some time now. The process is almost complete whereby the people are able to unite into a mob, which chants “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Victim by victim, Jesus saves us from the hatred and hostility of the world by taking that hatred and hostility on himself and refusing to reciprocate it and allow it to keep festering. Victim by victim, Jesus sets us free to begin our lives over again by placing himself one step closer to the powers of death that will consume him. And victim by victim, Jesus breaks free of death’s stronghold and shows us that there is a better way to live.

Life and hope and salvation is made possible by Jesus offering himself to the deadly powers in our place, saving us from the violence and hostility that would otherwise have been directed at us.

And Jesus affirmed his break with the past, saying: Today salvation has come to this house. For the son of man came to seek and to save the lost.

He who was lacking in height had become nine feet tall.

He who’d been a nobody now felt he was a somebody.

He who’d been tromping on people now saw himself blessed to be a blessing. Lord, if you could find Zaccheus and help him, then you can help us too. And so salvation –healing and wholeness - have come to this house. Amen