I love this story. I hope you were listening closely. What do we know about Zachhaeus, what kind of job does he have?
Zachhaeus is a Jewish tax collector for the Roman government. We can understand, maybe, why he isn’t wildly popular. Most of his fellow Jewish community is not fond of the Roman Empire that is ruling over them. Many folks don’t like taxes, either, especially taxation without representation, oppressive taxation, which is what the Jewish people have under the Romans.
But Zachhaeus doesn’t just have a job that people love to hate. He’s not just collaborating with the enemy. What else does Zachhaeus do that might make him unpopular? Zachhaeus takes advantage of his position. He charges people more than they owe, and he keeps that money for himself.
Now, if you had never heard this story, and you found out about Zachhaeus, and his job, and what he’s been up to, what would you expect to happen to him? This seems like the perfect set-up for a downfall. Surely someone is going to catch Zachhaeus red handed, and then throw him into jail or out of town, or, at the very least, shame him publicly.
But – that’s not what happens to Zachhaeus.
Zachhaeus, we discover, is not a one-dimensional character. His whole heart and mind are not entirely taken up with greed. There is something else inside of him, something we might call… curiosity. Zachhaeus hears that a famous rabbi named Jesus is coming through town, and Zachhaeus wants to see him.
Zachhaeus wants to see Jesus — not just a little. He really wants to catch a glimpse. So when he discovers that, being a short person, he can’t see over the crowds (Zachhaeus, I feel your pain!); when he discovers that the crowds won’t let him in; what does he do? He runs down the street, and up into a tree, to get a glimpse. A grown man, clambering up a Sycamore tree.
It turns out that whatever curiosity, longing, loneliness drives Zachhaeus into the tree, Jesus is ready to meet it. Jesus sees this adult man in fancy clothes, this wealthy man who has climbed up into a tree to see him, and Jesus knows: this is the person I need to have dinner with tonight. So Jesus invites himself over to Zachhaeus’ house for a meal. Jesus talks to Zacchaeus like a friend. And as they talk, Zachhaeus confesses what he has done, and promises to change his ways.
Maybe you know what it feels like to be Zachhaeus: stranded on the outside, wishing you were in. Sometimes we’re excluded because of mistakes that we make, because of bad choices, like Zachhaeus was. Sometimes we’re excluded because of who we are: what we look like, who we love, our history. Sometimes we just find ourselves the odd one out, for no particular reason at all. No matter how it happens, it doesn’t feel good, to be the one no one talks to, the one no one makes room for, the one no one invites over for dinner.
The good news is that God has a special care for those on the outside. God’s always searching for folks who are curious, who are longing, who are lonely. God specializes in offering unexpected invitations. Are you weighed down with guilt? God says, Come unburden yourself. Have you been made to feel that you are not an infinitely precious child of God, just as you are? God says, come receive my blessing. Are you just lonely, tired, in need of a little grace? God says, There is room at my table for you. Come, rest awhile, and have something to eat.
As followers of Jesus, as church, we have the opportunity to both receive God’s invitations, and to offer them to one another. It takes all of us, drawing the strands in and out, to make the weaving of our holy community come together. I am so grateful that in God’s wisdom, they chose to weave each of you into the fabric of this particular cloth. I am so grateful, to be bound together with all of you, and for the binding together that you do among us, through God’s grace, week to week.
So let’s praise God, that we are not alone this morning, on the outside, wishing we were in. God is our host here, and that means everyone is home, even if we’re still working on feeling that way. And let’s praise God that we get to become bound together more closely in love with everyone here this morning, and with a few folks who have chosen to become members of our community today.