October 30, 2022 ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
A pastor phoned the home of some recent visitors to the church’s worship service. A voice on the other end of the line answered with a whispered, “Hello.” The pastor asked, “Who is this?” The whispering voice said, “Jimmy.” The pastor asked, “How old are you, Jimmy?” The voice said, “Four.”
The pastor then asked, “Jimmy, can I please speak to your mom?” Jimmy answered, “She’s busy.” “Then can I speak to your dad?” “He’s busy.” Are there any other adults in your home?” “The police.” “Then let me speak to one of the police officers.” “They’re busy,” Jimmy reported, still whispering. “Jimmy, who else is there?” “Firemen.” “Well, can you put one of the firemen on the phone?” “They’re busy.”
Finally, the pastor had to ask, “Jimmy, what are they all busy doing?”
“They’re all busy looking for me!”
Like Jimmy’s situation, a lot of people are hiding. They’re hiding from parents and police; they’re hiding from bosses and spouses; they’re hiding from teachers and coaches. And sometimes, maybe even much of the time we spend in hiding, we are hiding from God.
But I have often found myself in the other role, too, the role of searching for someone. Yes, I have searched for my children when they were among the missing. I have searched for parishioners who seemed to be lost. I have searched for the right people to do the right job. But mostly, I have searched for God in so many situations.
Why do we hide in life, especially from God? Why do we search in life, especially for God? Perhaps we have done something wrong, and we are gripped by guilt. Perhaps we are embarrassed by a decision, or action, or words we have uttered. Perhaps we have hurt another and wonder how the other can ever forgive. Perhaps we are in a proverbial pickle and don’t know where else to turn. Perhaps, deep inside, we know something is just not right, and we need strength, wisdom, and guidance to see it through.
Luke tells us that Jesus was passing through Jericho. He was not going there for a speaking engagement, or to meet-up with family, friends, or even the local movers and shakers. He was just passing through. But, by word of mouth, people had heard that he was coming that way. And similar to those who lined up to see the President’s motorcade between OCC and Hancock Airport the other day, there were many people alongside the road vying for the best position. In Jericho people wanted to get a good view of this now famous Rabbi, perhaps to hear him teaching as he traveled, or to reach out and touch the miracle-worker.
Zacchaeus was not popular in Jericho. Notorious for being a chief tax collector, he had become quite wealthy by charging exorbitant sums of money on behalf of the enemy, the oppressor, the Roman government. He was voluntarily a part of the system of oppression which made life so difficult for the Jews. One would think that Zacchaeus would have been hiding, or just would not care about being anywhere in the vicinity of this Jesus. But instead, Zacchaeus went looking for Jesus that day. Unable to get a good view because he was “vertically challenged,” Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore fig tree in order to be able to see over the heads of others.
Now, when most of us go to a parade, or to see someone important pass by, we usually go with two purposes in mind. We want to see and witness what is happening in front of us. But, we may also hope that we will be noticed by the important ones passing by, even though we know that the chances of that are slim. Why would someone whose notoriety was gained by oppressing others want to be noticed by the One who came to speak power to the evil ways of the world; the One who came turn the ways of the world upside-down; the One who was opposed to taking advantage of others?
Something deep in Zacchaeus’ heart and soul moved him to the sycamore tree that day. And thankfully, Jesus was not too busy to see, really see Zacchaeus with his potential to be a repentant soul yearning for redemption. Jesus was the only One who could and would offer Zacchaeus renewal, restoration, and redemption, which, in the eyes of God, would wipe away his sin, transform his greed, and provide a means of rectifying all of his relationships.
Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house for a meal. And that self-invitation is met with gladness and enthusiasm. The risk of scandal was mutual in this situation. Jesus was going willingly to dine with a notorious sinner. Zacchaeus was entertaining one who spoke out against the religious leadership and the ruling government. Similar to the sacrament of Holy Communion which we will share next Sunday, eating together was symbolic of the granting of grace and redemption, and displayed a desire for wonderful diversity and unity within a fragmented world.
Jesus pronounces that “Today, salvation has come to this house,” referring to those who inhabited the home. For Zacchaeus, that salvation included his willingness to put his wealth into the practice of compassion. In the past, Zacchaeus’ wealth, and the acquisition of that wealth, had stood in the way of living according to God’s will. Now, Zacchaeus was willing to invest his whole self: heart, soul, hands, feet, and riches, in what God does through Jesus Christ. Through grace, like Zacchaeus, we are set free to give our everything to Christ’s service. That is the joy of redemption!
This is why mission and service with Christian love, is as much a means of grace for the doer as it is for the receiver. Part of what mission does is to lead us to places we never would have gone were it not for Jesus inviting himself into our lives, and introducing us to people we never would have met were it not for Jesus noticing those of us with yearning hearts and souls along the side of the road.
Let’s continue to allow Jesus to seek us, find us, transform us with grace, so that we may experience the Joy of Redemption! Amen.