Luke 19: 1-10
Today, we’re going to be talking about Jesus’ insistence on ‘loving’ and reaching out to all the ‘wrong’ people. Let me start with how William Willimon[i] introduces today’s reading. He writes: Jesus’s scandalous way of breaking our barriers and reaching out to those whom we deem ourselves as being morally and spiritually above, continues to shock us. Jesus Christ was criticized for being one “who receives sinners and eats with them.” In reaching out to the sinners who we sinners look down upon and avoid, Jesus presents us with a continuing radical challenge in evangelism and mission.
Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector, he was a chief tax collector and probably the richest man in town as a result of what he skimmed for himself. We’re told that he wanted to see Jesus, but couldn’t because he was too short and couldn’t see over the crowds. So he climbed a sycamore tree. The highlight of the story is not as Zacchaeus saw Jesus but as Jesus saw him. Jesus called him down and invited himself into Zacchaeus’ home and life. Jesus chose to break bread with only one person – the worst person in town. What does that tell us about Jesus?
We all have this in common with Zacchaeus: we want a better view of who Jesus is and what he means for us. Our shortness has to do with how narrow our understanding is of who and what God’s work in Jesus actually is and what Jesus actually does. Most of us spend most of our time just staring into the back of the heads of others’ opinions – of who and what they think Jesus is! As a result, we risk missing him altogether.
Where are we in this story? Zacchaeus…? Jesus…? Maybe, but like Willimon I’m pretty sure I would have been among those shouting: “Wait a minute! I heard Jesus was a good person, a religious leader, a prophet! How dare he go to the home of the richest, most unsavory character in town! Is Jesus approving of this man’s thieving ways? He should be condemning him not eating with him.”
When have I done that? When have you? Willimon knows when he did! He describes his reaction to Franklin Graham accepting the invitation to go eat with the President in the White House. Willimon, among those Christians who oppose the President, was outraged! What did Franklin Graham think he was doing – legitimizing the leadership of someone with whom they SO disagree? But then Willimon goes on to ask WWJD? Well, I wonder…? The only person with whom Jesus shared a meal in Jericho was that sinful despised Zacchaeus. And people hated him for it. Willimon is left feeling kind of conflicted, certainly challenged by what he implies is his own sense of self-righteousness.
The good news is that whenever we gather to eat – be it be for Holy Communion or for hamburgers in the gym – there are those many good righteous people who may properly say:
“Look! He’s at it again: eating with sinners!” …to which all of us sinners may answer: YES! Thank God! Thank God that this Jesus still loves all the ‘wrong’ ‘undeserving’ people, because that means there is room for us!!! And room for us to be inspired to do the same… May it be so. Amen
Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2019.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon summary with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.
[i] Much of today’s reflection quoting and drawing from Willimon’s published reflection on this passage in Ministry Matters, Nov 3, 2019