Proper 26, 30 October 2022
Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.
In today’s Gospel, He was passing through Jericho, one of the oldest fortified cities in the Ancient Near East, six miles north of the Dead Sea. It has a plentiful water supply and is sometimes referred to as an oasis or a city of palms. It was a commercial hub on a major trading route between Judea and Perea. It was the first city conquered by Joshua, in a very unusual way. Two significant events took place in Jericho: One was when Jesus healed the blind man calling to Him, “Lord, Master, heal me”; the other is today’s story of Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus.
Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. Rome had colonised Israel; the governors recruited Jews to collect taxes on their behalf, and they often collected extra for themselves. Zacchaeus oversaw the collection of tolls and duties on transported goods, and was strategically positioned to become very rich illegally. Tax collectors were not only disliked, but regarded as sinners and categorised with prostitutes.
Hearing that Jesus was passing through, Zacchaeus ran ahead, and being short he climbed a tree to see Jesus. Many people were present, but of all of them Jesus noticed Zacchaeus. He said,
“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”[i]
To see Jesus, we must embrace the cross
What can we learn from this simple story of a short man climbing a tree? Zacchaeus was serious about seeing Jesus and who Jesus is. A man of his social stature, whether he was liked or disliked, would not want to climb trees because of his reputation. You don’t see mayors climbing trees, but in palaces with their medals and sashes. Zacchaeus didn’t think about what people would say – more important in his mind was his determination and his heart’s desire to see Jesus. If you want to follow Jesus, you need to risk looking foolish to your friends, relatives, the crowd, and the world.
Saint Augustine said,
“If you climb the tree of the cross, you will finally see Jesus.”
You should be willing to climb. To climb a coconut tree, you have to embrace it. As Christians we must never be embarrassed to embrace the cross of Christ: if we are, we cannot be His disciples.[ii] Jesus was not embarrassed to embrace the cross for us; why should we be?
Zacchaeus’s desire was simply to hear Jesus, but perhaps deep in his heart was a longing for God that he could not explain. He was blessed, because he not only saw Jesus, but something else was given to him: he was suddenly found worthy to have Jesus in his own house. Zacchaeus was gripped with this irresistible desire to see Jesus, and so he did what he did. His desire caught the eyes of Jesus, the grace of God waiting for him, which he desired the most: the grace that leads us to righteousness.
What will you lose in order to gain?
Having received Jesus, who is full of grace and truth, Zacchaeus responds by saying,
“Half of my wealth I will give to the poor”.
The reason he only gave half is that he said,
“If I have defrauded [deceived or cheated] anyone, I am willing to give back four times what I have taken.”
Zacchaeus was reserving some so that he would not continue to owe anything.
This is quite a contrast to the rich young man. Both were rich, both perhaps were seeking the Kingdom of God. One was an expert in the Law, while the other was not; one was self-righteous, the other was a sinner; one was cerebral, the other sought God in his heart. As a result, one left sad, and the other left very happy or blessed.
Life is about desiring God in one’s heart; it is loving God more than the world and more than self. Like Zacchaeus, we gain more than we would expect.
Consider Paul’s example in Philippians 3:1-13. He had many credentials and a lot to boast about, and yet he said this. Saint Paul did something very similar to Zacchaeus, maybe in a more profound way.
Several years ago, I met a businessman who I could tell was always thinking, “How much will I gain in this deal? How much money do I have? How can I make more money?” The question people have in mind when God’s grace draws near, and when they think of going to church, is “What will I gain? If I work on Sunday, I’ll have double pay – that’s what I came to Europe for. If I follow Jesus, worship, and serve Him, what will I gain?” Most of the time that’s what people think about in this materialistic world, and what worldly people say. But the right question is, what will you lose if you don’t worship, serve, and obey God? That’s what Christians ask. Zacchaeus not only saw Jesus, but Jesus entered his home and brought salvation. Never underestimate the grace of almighty God. Never ask, “What will I gain by going to church?” but, “What will I lose if I don’t receive Him? What will I lose if I don’t hear God’s Word? What will I lose if I don’t love God?”
What do you want to lose so that you might gain? The principles of God are totally different from those of the world. We should be willing to lose the world for Christ’s sake. Jesus said you can gain the whole world and lose your soul.[iii]
Are you willing to lose yourself for the sake of Christ? That’s when you find yourself, when you lose yourself to Christ. He said,
“If you want to be My disciple, come, follow Me, and you will find your life. It’s when you lose your life that you will find it.”[iv]
This is totally the opposite of what the world teaches us. How far are you willing to lose so you might gain? If everything we think of is what is for me, then we’re about to lose.
Hold nothing back
When I was challenged to give my life to Jesus, I did it on an instalment basis. The problem with that is that it has interest. In order to gain in your relationship with God, it must be 100%. It will be a journey. If you have given your life but only part of it, and you’re gambling with God about the rest, this might be the time to make a decision, like Zacchaeus. Once you’ve made the decision, you need to work towards it.
If Zacchaeus wanted to meet Jesus, Jesus was more eager to meet Zacchaeus, because He came to seek those who were lost. What stops us giving our life to God is primarily fear, which is the opposite of faith. It’s better to give it all and hold nothing. If we’re foolish, so be it; but if what this Scripture says is true, you don’t lose with God – those who lose are those who take from God.
Make it a personal prayer: “Lord, I give my all to You. I might look foolish in the eyes of man, but I’m not holding back any more. Help me with Your grace.” It was the grace of God that Zacchaeus received that led him to take the second step of saying he would give restitution. Don’t hold back anything – give it all to Him; let God’s grace work in your life. “Lord, I give everything to You; I’m holding nothing back, because on the cross You held nothing.”
Lord, hear the prayers of Your people today. As You saw the heart of Zacchaeus, You see the heart of every single one of us. Some when You pass by miss the opportunity to receive the Life of life, the King of the Universe, the Source of all love, the Provider of all things, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They miss You because their hearts are not seeking for You. But for Zacchaeus, and for the blind man who was crying out for mercy – because we are blind, helpless, in need, tired, hungry, and thirsty; we don’t have a sense of direction in life, we don’t have meaning, and the worldly things we’re chasing are vanity – Lord, help us.
Thank You for the invitation to dine with You. Enjoying such a relationship between human and divine, that which Adam and Eve in the garden, is now brought back to us. Lord, we know that the rest will follow: all our worries and anxieties we lay at the feet of the cross; we look to You, Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
Bishop Frank Constantino said, “Takers are losers; givers are winners”. When we give our lives to God, He will give them back to us for His glory and honour.
When Jesus said He would go to Zacchaeus’ house, He wasn’t literally speaking about the house: He wants to bring salvation to the home, not only Zacchaeus but his family. Always pray for your loved ones, because God wants to touch their lives; He wants them in the Church so He can bless them with His grace – especially those who have lost or abandoned their faith, those who’ve lost a sense of direction, and those who’ve chosen different priorities and for whom Jesus is no longer the centre.
Never lose the opportunity to give; and what you give today, one day you will reap. But don’t give what you want to give – give what God wants you to give. Listen to the Spirit of God, and ask Him how much He wants you to give. If you’ve given everything to Him, it’s now His money, and it’s time for Him to take care of you.
- Have you ever felt that God doesn’t notice you? If so, how does this message change your perspective?
- Do you desire to be noticed by Jesus, or to encounter Him as Zacchaeus did? What sacrifices are you willing to make in order for this to happen?
- Are you more concerned about your reputation with people or your relationship with God? Are you willing to embrace the cross in order to follow Jesus?
- Do you regard working on Sundays as a gain or a loss? What about going to church to worship God?
- Would you rather lose your life in this world in order to share in the life of Christ, or gain something in this world and risk losing your soul? Is there something you need to change? What will you do about it?
- Have you given your life completely to God? If not, what are you holding back, and why? What are you afraid of? Are you willing to give Him everything, even though it is a journey? Are you allowing God’s grace to work in your life?
- Are you a loser or a winner according to this message? If you are a loser, what can help you to become a winner?
[i] Luke 19:5, NRSV
[ii] Mark 8:38
[iii] Mark 8:36-37
[iv] Mark 8:34-35