Homily for “Back to Church Sunday,” 2009
Sunday, September 27th, 2009
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 19:1-10
"He was trying to see who Jesus was..."
A man named Zacchaeus had heard that Jesus was in town. Now this man, Zacchaeus, was probably not well liked by the people of Jericho for he was the chief tax collector. If we think the taxman has a bad reputation today, we would do well to consider for a moment the reputation of the first century tax collector. In Roman occupied Judea, the tax collector would have been seen as a much-hated Roman collaborator. In addition to collecting an unpopular, and widely considered unfair tax, the tax collector would skim a sizeable chunk off the top, or worse, extort an additional amount for himself. Perhaps now, in our world of “Ponzi schemes” and economic fraudsters, we can appreciate what the first century person thought of the tax collector. Is it any wonder that they would have been counted amongst the greatest of sinners? We are told that Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector, and as a result, as wealthy as he was, one cannot imagine that he held any popularity amongst the people of his day.
Thus, when Jesus was passing by, it is not hard to understand why others in the crowd would not let Zacchaeus come close. Perhaps he pushed and shoved, with some sense of entitlement, trying to get through. But he was simply ignored. To make things worse, we are told that he was of short stature, he could not even see over the crowd. For some reason, though, he was determined to see Jesus that day. So, he rushed ahead, found a sycamore tree, a small tree to be sure, but large enough so that when he climbed into it he could just see over the heads of the crowd. Well, the jaws must have dropped amongst the crowd, as Jesus immediately spotted Zacchaeus and called to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today!” One can only imagine that moment of awkwardness and surprise as the crowd was silenced at this remarkable interchange – a moment of silence that was soon interrupted by gossipy whispering and grumbling amongst the people.
Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was. How did he know about Jesus? What had he heard? What was it that drew him to find out more? These are aspects of the story that are withheld from us. All we are told is that Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was. With all his doubts about his own self-worth; in full knowledge of how difficult it would be for him to join that crowd gathering around Jesus, he stirred up incredible courage (he knew not from where it came), at went out into the crowd to try and catch a glimpse of the man. He never thought Jesus would catch his eye, much less call his name.
We are a community filled with Zacchaeuses. Each of us has come here with our human brokenness and failures, but also with our hopes and dreams. Each of us comes with our history of joy and sorrow, and our yet-to-be-discovered divine potential. There is not a one amongst us that has not asked the questions: Will I fit in? What will they think of me? Am I good enough? Yet as we draw closer to the crowd, that fear seems to dissipate, for as we climb awkwardly into that sorry little tree, and peer over the heads of others we are spotted; the eyes of our hearts are met by the eyes of the heart of another, who calls us by name. We have to look around from side to side; is it me that you are calling, or someone else with the same name? No, it is I. It is a fearful moment when all time seems to stop, and yet an exciting moment. It is a moment of being found amongst the crowd. Me, Lord? Me? Really? The tax collector? You must have at it wrong!
“No, indeed,” he says, “There is no mistake, I’m coming home with you today, for like everyone in this crowd, you also, are one of my children … You are a beloved child of God.”
The crowd around seems baffled at first. They ask the same question that is upon Zaccheus’s heart. How could Jesus love one such as him? But, it does not take long for the answer to come to them, for one by one they realize that Zacchaeus’s story is also their own story. One by one their hearts and minds turn back to the moment in which they had wondered who Jesus was and how he picked them out of the crowd in which they found themselves, and said to them, “I’m coming home with you today.”
Am I worthy? Will I fit in? I’m not sure I can be the kind of person that I’m expected to be. I’m not sure I believe all the right things.
I suspect these were questions rumbling around the depths of the Zacchaeus’s heart. And if we are honest with ourselves, I am sure that they are questions that we secretly harbour. Yet, in spite of these questions, in spite of what everyone might think of him, in spite of what he felt about himself, Zacchaeus still wondered who Jesus was and thought he’d take a peek. Somehow, strangely, when Jesus caught his eye, those questions seemed no longer important, for they were eclipsed by a much greater reality – Zacchaeus learned that he was God’s child, that he mattered deeply to Jesus, that he was loved profoundly by Jesus, so much so that the Lord went home with him that day.
c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves