“Peace to the Lost”
Nov 4, 2007 – Luke 19:1-10

If we go back to the scripture reading from last week, which Scott preached on, and look at it and the stories between it and today’s Gospel reading, we would find the following characters: a pharisee and a tax collector, children who are brought to Jesus, a rich man who wanted to know what it took to gain eternal life, and a blind man.

Zaccheus brings together a piece of each event. First, he is a tax collector. Scott told us last week that tax collectors are hated by the community. They are equated to robbers, but state backed robbers, who take more than their share of taxes for their own gain.

Zaccheus also acts like a child. He wants so badly to see Jesus, and he’s too short to see over the crowd, so he climbs a tree. Which for a man in his position, only draws attention to his short stature, bringing more humiliation upon himself.

Zaccheus is a rich man. Jesus met a rich young ruler, just before coming to Jerusalem. The young man wanted to know what he needed to do to gain eternal life. Jesus told him to sell all he has and give to the poor. Zaccheus lives in a wealthy city, so as a chief tax collector, he would have many wealthy people from which he could draw plenty of extra income for himself.

Jesus met a blind man, who wanted to be able to see. Zaccheus was unable to see as well. So climbed a tree so that he might catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by. Well Zaccheus certainly got more than just a glimpse!

Zaccheus is also a hated man. The crowd indicates so as soon as Jesus tells him he is going to his house. Zaccheus is more than a tax-collector. Luke tells us he is the chief tax collector. Which means he was very rich, because he was able to sub-contract to other tax collectors. Who he paid, and took the bulk of the surplus for himself. This would have been known to those in the community. Therefore, they certainly did not like him very much.

Now, we wonder why this rich tax collector would want to see Jesus so badly, so badly he would risk humiliation by climbing a tree to see over the crowd. Opening himself to remarks about his height. No doubt he’s heard stories of what Jesus has been doing. This encounter is near the end of Jesus’ ministry, as he is about to enter Jerusalem for the last time. So stories of Jesus would have been wide spread, evidenced by the large crowd that has gathered to watch him walk by. Maybe Zaccheus is curious, maybe he feels guilty for the work he does. We can of course only speculate, but curiousity has to be at least why he chose to climb the tree.

As Jesus passes, he stops. He points at the tree and says “Zaccheus, come down. I’m having tea with you today.” And so the crowd begins to rumble as Zaccheus makes his way down the tree and towards Jesus. “Why is he eating with him, a sinner?”

Zaccheus is overjoyed! He has been given a great honour, to have this great teacher come into his home. This is where we see there may have been some guilt in Zaccheus’ heart. He stood in the middle of this crowd and tells Jesus he is repenting. He is going to give half of his possessions to the poor. And if he has done further wrong to anyone, they will receive 4 times as much as he took. FOUR TIMES!!! Imagine if the bank decided to fix errors on our accounts like that!

This is far and beyond what is required of Zaccheus. The laws in Leviticus only state he has to give an extra 20%. Yet he offers 400%.

So Zaccheus has done what the rich ruler could not. The rich ruler, when told to sell all he has walks away. It seems he can’t give it up. Yet in this small, very short encounter with Jesus,
Zaccheus is giving half of his stuff to the poor, and a 400% return to those he defrauded. As a tax collector, that is mostly likely more than a few people.

Zaccheus has given everything up in the blink of an eye in this encounter with Jesus. He wants a new life. Jesus, through a simple gesture, reached out to a man who must have been struggling greatly with his lifestyle. Struggling for meaning, direction. What was he supposed to do? A simple encounter with Jesus seemed to provide his solution. He had heard the stories about Jesus, what he did and taught. He knew Jesus reached out to those in need. All he wanted was a glimpse.

Jesus stopped below him, and called him out of the tree. This was far beyond what Zaccheus would have expected. A small, hated, worthless man like himself. Everyone around him knew he was good for nothing, he was a sinner who took full advantage of his position. Yet Jesus chose his house for rest. Without invitation, without Zaccheus even suspecting he would have the opportunity. Once again Jesus does what no one expects him to. He decides to eat with the outcast of the society. It gave Zaccheus what he was looking for though. Hope… Direction. A reason to do what he knew was right.

The other night in the Bible Study, we talked about seeds. We looked at the parable of the mustard seed found in Matthew 13, and how the mustard seed, which grew into a bush that spread and sheltered and fed birds might apply to us today. We shared stories of how little seeds, planted in many ways could grow so quickly. Examples of how two boys in Nova Scotia stood up against bullies in their school by wearing pink shirts in support of a fellow student. Which has now grown into a world-wide movement. Examples of how something as simple as spending $10 on a few pencils and other supplies can send a child to school in other parts of the world. Offering priceless education to places that need it most. Little seeds, seeds that grow into huge movements, making the world a better place to live in.

Zaccheus clearly had some seeds planted within himself as he heard the stories of Jesus. All it took, all the seed needed to make it sprout, was the outstretched arm of someone who cared. What occurred when the seed grew? People could eat! People would be receive justice for times when they were wronged. Zaccheus, in his new found faith was helping the many people he had taken advantage of.

Today is November 4. For the United Church, today is Peace Sunday. As a denomination we are starting a campaign to raise money for peace initiatives. By the end of 2009, we hope to raise $2 million. Half of that will be allocated to peacebuilding initiatives in Palestine and Israel. The rest will be used to support peace initiatives proposed by our partner churches around the world.

Our goal, is to plant seeds of peace around the world. In the grand scheme of things, $2 million doesn’t go as far as it used to. But lots of things can still be done. Awareness can be brought to those who do not see the conflicts that occur daily around the world. It is an opportunity for us as a church, and as a people who live out our faith, it is an opportunity for us to be like Christ and reach out to those who are trapped in their lives.

Jesus said to Zaccheus and all those standing around, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

There are many people in our world who feel lost. Who feel trapped by the circumstances they live in, just like Zaccheus. Christ simply reached out to Zaccheus, showed him he was loved, and his life was changed.

On this Peace Sunday, may we reach out and show love to all people, because we never know who’s life we may change when we act as Christ would have us act.