Isaiah 43; Luke 19:1-10
I still remember as a young child climbing up on the pew for every hymn, standing on that velvet blue seat, so that I could stand with the adults and sing the songs in the hymnal and not miss out on seeing anything. I wanted to know who was processing and what they were carrying. I didn’t want to miss out on anything! It’s not uncommon in crowds— especially parades and to see children on their parents’ shoulders; children jumping up and down to see in-between people; children standing on anything they can find so that they can see. It’s one of the reasons I encourage families to sit up front in church— so that the children can actually see what’s going on and experience it firsthand.
Zacchaeus knew what that was like. Being a man of small stature, he was probably used to not being able to see in crowds. But on this day, he decided enough was enough. He wanted to see Jesus. Jesus was a man who drew crowds around him. Zacchaeus wanted to see the one who has been healing people and speaking the truth. He just wanted to see him. So he goes out on a limb and climbs a tree. There’s a part of me that thinks Zacchaeus was probably surprised that day when Jesus notices him in that tree— after all, with so many people that he can’t see, it seems unlikely that Jesus is going to notice him. But there’s also a part of me that wonders if Zacchaues climbed up that tree precisely so that Jesus would see him. Because when Jesus calls his name, tells him to hurry down because he’s going to his house today, Zacchaeus is quick to respond. Scripture says he hurried down the tree, just as Jesus asked, that he was glad to welcome Jesus. It is a definitive moment as the one who has been searching for Jesus is able to look him in the eye.
Funny thing is, that’s when people began grumbling. Jesus has been walking through cities, healing people, telling parables, interacting with people, and his message has been well received— the crowds are growing, people are walking with him trying to hear what he has to say. But then this man named Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, a wealthy man, is noticed by Jesus—not only noticed but called out. Jesus invites himself over to the man’s house and that’s when the grumbling begins. People begin to question why Jesus is going to be eating with such a sinner; people begin to wonder what this means about whose side Jesus is on. When the crowds look at Zaccheaus, all they can see is what he stands for— they see his wealth which they don’t have; they see corruption from what they know of tax collectors; they see callousness of how they know they’ve been treated. When Jesus looks at Zaccheuas, he sees Zaccheaus. He sees a man who can change his ways; a man who wants to live a life worth living; he sees someone who is willing to follow God.
You might expect in that moment that Jesus would be the one to rescue Zacchaeus, that he would be the one to speak up right away and defend his choice of who to eat with. But in that moment, it is Zacchaeus who speaks first. Only Zacchaeus does not address the crowd; Zaccheaus speaks directly to Jesus: “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.”
In that moment, it seems, Zaccheaus makes a choice. In that moment, as the crowds are looking at him with disfavor and Jesus is looking at him with kind and welcoming eyes, Zacchaeus chooses to believe what he sees in Jesus’ eyes instead of what he knows the crowd thinks of him. And Zacchaeus commits his daily living— his income—he chooses to use his power to give away half of what he has and to make up for any wrongdoing he has done.
Today, the ten of you come to make a public witness, to say to this community of faith that you want to follow Jesus. You want to live into the vows made at your baptism. You want to continue with us— to be on this journey of faith with this church community— and you are ready to let go of the things in your life that are pulling you in the opposite direction.
And like Zaccheus, you may have people in your life who grumble against you at times. You may have people in your life who question whether you can make this commitment. You may have people in your life who don’t see you as God sees you and wonder about this call. You also might look at the rest of us at times and grumble about us. You may be able to see our failings as a church more clearly sometimes than we are able to see them ourselves. You may wonder what we’ve been doing all this time and why the world is still so screwed up. And so I want to say this— be patient with us; we will be patient with you. Be truthful with us; we will be truthful with you. Be faithful in the ways you know how to be faithful to the living God; we will do the same. It’s going to take all of us saying yes to Jesus; all of us being willing to walk this path together, to make this world a better, kinder, more loving and more forgiving place.
I am so grateful for you (Confirmands). As I am grateful for all of you (Congregation). Because when we work together, God will do great things. The Holy Spirit is among us!