Zacchaeus

Wisdom 11:22-12:2; Luke 19:1-10

When I was invited to preach this Sunday, I was told the reading would be right up my street, as the gospel was about Zacchaeus, the silly little man up a tree. Well! I am not sure what  was implied, but being a little man I can understand as I am one myself, and as for being up a tree, I suppose this pulpit in which I am standing was once a tree!

In many ways the message of today’s reading is a continuation of those from last week, where the pharisee and the tax-collector are both praying in the Temple: the pharisee being arrogant standing up in the middle for all to see, saying how perfect he is; the tax-collector, hid in the corner, recognising his faults and praying to God for forgiveness.

In this week’s gospel the main protagonists are very similar, the crowd taking the part of the pharisee, condemning Jesus for eating with sinners,  but now we have the ultimate tax-collector in Zacchaeus, the senior tax -collector.

I feel a bit sorry Zacchaeus as he is almost portrayed as the villain out of a pantomime, a little man who is derided by all around him, a comic figure, who if not hated, is definitely disliked by all. This is something that has not changed, for even today the image of a tax-collector may be that of a disliked figure. 

 Talking to a bank manager during the week, she told me that bank managers are hated more than tax collectors now.

The interesting thing about these two sets of reading is that the norms of life are turned upside down. The Pharisee would have been seen as an upstanding man in the society of the time, a man of God, someone who would have been looked up to, living by the law. Whereas the tax-collector is seen as a traitor, working for the Romans, a thief relieving the people of their wealth and keeping a slice for himself. 

But now the upright men seem arrogant in their lives and in their spiritualty, having more interest in their religious practice, rather than the lives of the people around them. Those who appear to be sinful in all their ways as well as in their deeds have now found themselves closer to God.

This should be a big warning for us, not to fall into the trap. It can be all too easy for us to become arrogant in our thinking, just paying lip service to the law being carried away with our religious practices and therefore missing what it really means to be a Christian.

We may often find more faith in God in the people in whom we would least expect to find it, just the same way as we find faith with Zacchaeus and the Tax collector.

It is faith in God that leads the tax-collector to recognize his sin; the same faith in God not only causes Zacchaeus to recognize his sin but also leads to the extraordinary act of him climbing the tree to seek the face of God. In doing so not only does he find forgiveness for his many sins but he also finds love for his fellows,  giving away half of all he has and repaying all that he stole.

Through Christ Zacchaeus found forgiveness for all his sins, and so can we , but first we must recognize what separates us from God, as it says at the end of the first reading from the book of Wisdom.

Little by little, therefore, you correct those who offend, you admonish and remind them of how they have sinned, so that they may abstain from evil and trust in you, Lord’.

Do I mind being compared to a ‘silly little man up a tree’? No, because I would rather be a silly little man up a tree looking for God, in readiness to turn my back on all my many sins, rather than to be a tall noble man who cannot see the face of God when he stands before him, let alone acknowledge what faults he may have.

So let us go climb trees, we may be seen as silly, but on the other hand we may find God in the process.