Reflection: "Come on Down!"
Zacchaeus wasn’t a very tall man, barely standing five feet tall with his shoes off and he was probably one of the least popular men in Jericho, because he was the head tax-collector in that district for the Roman occupying forces and he’d made a huge profit out of it.
He was the richest man in town, as well as being the shortest.
Last week, I used the lectionary reading from Luke 18 - the passage about the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple.
We certainly got the idea from that reading, that tax collectors were pretty despicable characters and not at all popular with the Jewish people.
Still, when word got around that Jesus would soon be passing through his town, Zacchaeus shinnied up a sycamore tree so that he could see something more than just the backs of other people's heads.
And that's precisely where he was when Jesus spotted him.
And in the words of that recent TV game show, Jesus called out, “Zacchaeus, come on down!”, adding “I'm going to eat at your house tonight.”
Well, the reaction from the people was not exactly the thunderous applause that the game show audience respond with.
The people nearby were actually amazed and, I think, a little horrified.
It was beyond belief to think that Jesus wouldn’t have had better sense than to invite himself into the house of a man whom nobody else would touch with a ten-foot barge pole.
But Jesus knew exactly what he was doing.
He’d spent his life perfecting the art of mixing with the marginalised people of the land.
Zacchaeus, meanwhile, was so taken aback by the honour of hosting Jesus for dinner, that before he had a chance to change his mind, he blurted out a promise to not only turn over 50% of his holdings to the poor, but to also pay back four times the cash he'd extorted from anyone else.
Why this sudden change of heart?
What had turned this money-grabbing shylock into a philanthropist?
It all came down to the fact that, when Zacchaeus came into a relationship with Jesus, something remarkable happened.
Jesus set him free from the stunted, distorted self-image that had corrupted his life.
Jesus set Zacchaeus free to be his true self - as one made in the likeness of God - a creature made for loving, for giving, for sharing.
Jesus could easily have seen in Zacchaeus what everyone else did: a greedy, ruthless, despicable traitor who collected taxes for the Roman occupation forces.
But Jesus saw a lot more in him.
He knew that there was a child of Abraham locked away in Zacchaeus and Jesus wanted to release it.
In other words, Jesus acknowledged him as a Jew and gave him the benefit of the doubt, so that he could turn his current life around. We’ll never know the details of what went on between Jesus and the tax collector over that meal, but we do know the result.
Zacchaeus started to recover his lost inner beauty and bearing fruits to prove it. He said:
“Half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much”.
To which Jesus replied:
“Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.”
Zacchaeus was looking for God, but God had already found him.
Knowledge had happened and revelation had taken place.
It’s common today for people to tell us that “knowledge is power”, but this was a personal kind of knowledge that Zacchaeus now embraced. It was the ultimate power.
It’s a power which Christ still has: to reveal God to us and to show us our own true nature.
So what is it that you see in the bathroom mirror, first thing in the morning?
Do you just see a life form with a complex plumbing system?
A pile of beige or brown coloured cells?
A mass that consists mostly of water?
Maybe the aftermath of your last 500 takeaway meals?
A chance fragment of consciousness in an unconscious universe?
These are all terms that have been variously used to describe us - people.
Or do you see something which God has revealed and redeemed through Christ Jesus: a child of Abraham, or better still: a child of God and a sister, or brother, of Christ.
There’s something truly divine about you; something infinitely precious and glorious.
That’s a part of the revelation of which we are stewards.
The other part of that revelation is that God, the Awesome First Person, far more glorious than all the billions of suns and stars in the universe, is tirelessly seeking your self-rehabilitation.
To God, you are so priceless, that no trouble is too much for him in trying to achieve your reclamation!
Out in the community, this very day, there may well be someone who’s thinking: “Rick, in my case, you’ve got it all wrong. There’s nothing precious about me. If you knew my ugly thoughts and feelings; if you knew about my broken promises and sullied ideals; if you knew my lack of prayer and lack of faith; if you knew about my simmering resentments and lusts; if you only knew the real me, you wouldn’t stand up there and say that I’m precious.”
The real you isn’t all about the sins and follies of your life.
God already knows all about them and yet he loves and treasures you, all the same.
My faith in your preciousness isn’t based on observation or investigation; it’s based on revelation.
That is, your true identity flows from God; from that immense, beautiful, throbbing Spirit who is within, and behind, all creation and whom Jesus revealed in his life and death and resurrection.
There may come a time when you might want to seek me out and tell me a sad story about your failings.
As your Pastor, I’ll listen carefully and compassionately and recognise the pain in your heart.
I’ll attempt to assist you.
But I will draw the line at one thing: I’ll never accept that you are just a ‘waste of space’.
You may have failed your Lord a million times, but that doesn’t alter God’s belief in you and his eternal love for you.
As we read in our bibles, God is willing to wipe the slate clean and let us start all over again.
Even the Apostle Paul, when writing to the fledgling church in Thessaloniki, reminded the congregation that they weren’t judged by the way other people viewed them, but by their steadfastness and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, I encourage you to look inside yourself!
Affirm what you are in God’s eyes.
Lift up your head.
Reach forwards towards that day when Christ will complete his work of grace in you and you shall have actually become the glorious being that you are in God’s eyes!
This day salvation has come to this house; for we also are children of Abraham - that’s us.
So let’s go out and live our lives just for God from this time on!
“Let us go into our lives in the joy of knowing we are loved.
Let us go in that truth, and in that peace, to love and serve the Lord.