Luke 19:1-10: At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
This Sunday’s Gospel reading gives us an “Amazing Grace” story, a person who was lost and has been found, was blind and now can see. This is an example of God’s redemptive story in each of us. It begins with Zacchaeus seeking Jesus. Verse 2 of Seek Ye First “Ask, and it shall be given unto you, seek and you shall find, knock, and the door shall be opened unto you,” was said by Jesus when he preached his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:7), and Zacchaeus did just this. He sought Jesus, so much so that he was willing to climb a tree to even catch a glimpse. The only time I’ve seen something close to this was by drunken men in Wrigleyville climbing lamp posts and traffic lights to get above the crowd after a Cubs or Blackhawks win. Let me tell ya, they don’t look smart. I can imagine it was slightly embarrassing for Zacchaeus to climb that tree, but he did it. (In what areas of our life do we need to swallow our pride, look crazy, and ‘climb the tree’ to follow Jesus? If no one calls us crazy, then we might not be seeking and/or following Jesus radically enough.)
And then the most beautiful thing happened. Jesus saw Zacchaeus. Jesus found quite possibly the most corrupt person in the crowd and said, “You. Let me stay with you.” But even more beautifully, he called him by name. He knows and calls each of us by name. When you feel completely alone, Jesus knows you and is with you. When you feel that no one understands your story or sees your heart, remember that Jesus knows you by name. He knows your every struggle and your every thought. And like Zacchaeus, Jesus sees the possibility for redemption in even the most sinful person. (Who have we given up on? Who is God placing on our heart and saying, “There is hope for even this person. Don’t give up.”?)
Zacchaeus said yes, just like Peter said yes, just like Mary said yes, just like Abraham said yes, just like we say yes. And that “yes” is not a one-time thing, it’s an every day thing, although the first “yes” is often the hardest to make. It’s the hardest to make because there is so much to change if we say that “yes” to God. We’ve had years of running in the opposite direction. Zacchaeus knew this more than anyone.
And then my favorite part of the story comes: Zacchaeus doesn’t just say “Okay, Jesus, I believe that you are the Messiah and you can come stay in my home (heart).” But Zacchaeus essentially says, “BECAUSE you are the Messiah and BECAUSE you are now in my home (heart), I have to change my life radically to follow you.” The acquisition of wealth was not synonymous with a trait of being a Christ-follower. Scamming people and stealing was not a possibility if he were to claim the term “Christian”. He had to give it up. And he did (and that couldn’t have been easy). And THEN Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Last week’s Gospel reading was about the heart. But this week’s Gospel reading tells us: it’s not enough for us to just change our hearts, we have to change our LIVES. If we say we believe, but we aren’t really willing to give up anything to follow Him, do we fully understand or grasp the magnitude of who Jesus is or what his kingdom should look like? Do we really believe? Or do we like to claim the term “Christian” but not “Christ-follower”?
1 John 2 says: “Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
If Jesus called your name right now and entered your home, what would you need to change so that Jesus could respond with “Today salvation has come to this home”? This Zacchaeus story is our story every single day. Jesus has made his home in us. Now he invites us to follow him.