Sermon for Sunday 30 October 2022
Luke 19.10: The Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.
The story of Zacchaeus, found only in St Luke’s Gospel, is a masterpiece. But the story isn’t about Zacchaeus, it’s about us, it’s about you and me. How do I know this? Because you and I are Zacchaeus. This is how we do religion. Like Zacchaeus. From a distance. Curious, but cautious. Interested in finding out who Jesus is. Zacchaeus, being vertically challenged, climbs a tree to see better. Just to see him. We might try to see Jesus by reading Scripture, by coming to church, by going on retreat, by trying to pray again, all sorts of worthy activities. But there is a coded message in this story, a message from God to you and me. It’s this. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today. The mission which God gave to Jesus is to seek out and save the lost. If you have lost your way in life, if you have lost your way in the life of the Spirit, and in particular if we find that our riches, our possessions, and I don’t mean the ISA, I mean our commitments, our obsessions, what takes up our time, our administration of ourselves, day by day, if we find that these have separated us from the love of God, then the message of today’s Gospel is that Jesus is trying to find us, one by one, in the crowd, hoping that his eyes will meet ours, so that he can tell us that there is nothing more important to God than coming to stay with each of us and being welcomed by us.
Now here’s the challenge to Christians today. If we dare to claim that our God is a God who intends to come and stay with us, who has looked for us and found us, what will people say? The crowd will start to complain, or as the Authorised Version has it, to greater effect, murmur against us, as they did against Zacchaeus, partly out of jealousy, but also they can not imagine that any God can come as close to his people as Jesus did when he entered Jericho and met Zacchaeus. The fact is that In what was the Christian West, God has no place. We have cheapened human life, and in our culture we no longer see a human life, even our own, as sanctified by God; there is nothing left to believe beyond the individual and his or her needs and demands, doomed to perpetual discontent. Zacchaeus climbed the tree to that he could see further than that, beyond the cultural limits of his time, and we must do the same in order that, as St Paul tells us in today’s epistle, “the name of our Lord Jesus may glorified in you, and you in him”.
Zacchaeus is a name which has another meaning. Zacchaeus means clean. Which is interesting because the crowd seem to be complaining that he isn’t clean, he’s a sinner because he collects the taxes, and that Jesus shouldn’t bother with the likes of him. Maybe they are murmuring about Jesus too. They did not like to see the Lord crossing the boundary between clean and unclean. Zacchaeus faces a modern dilemma. How do you get on in the world, becoming a senior tax collector in his case, and yet be a follower of Jesus? Zacchaeus, in his own way, finds a financial solution. We shall have to work out our own adjustments to the way we live. The point is that when we step down from the tree, when we accept Jesus into our heart and into our home, a radical change will take place in the way we see others and behave towards them. On our own it is hard to make these changes, any changes to the way we live, but Jesus’s greeting, Zacchaeus come down, makes it possible. So Jesus, seeing the change in a human life, says: Today salvation has come to this house.
Here is a God who loves his Creation, here is a God who brushes aside the critical crowd and goes to have lunch with Zacchaeus. Here was a person like us who always thought, that because of the life he’d led, he would be on the outside. Then the Lord called out to him. So he made haste and came down and received him joyfully. For the Son of Man is come today to seek out and save the lost. The Book of Wisdom calls God a lover of souls. Our celebration of All Souls next Wednesday will declare to an unbelieving world that no soul is lost for ever. Jesus is the lover of my soul and of yours. But he is more than that. He is the shepherd of our souls. And that is why the more you are lost, the further you stray, the longer you spend at the back of the crowd, the greater the distance God will go to find you and invite himself into your life. It never occurred to Zacchaeus, who was “small in stature”, as the Bible pointedly says, that he would ever even be seen. So it was lucky for him he climbed that tree, although it must be have been a little undignified for a senior tax collector. And a voice said, Zacchaeus, come down. Make haste, because I must stay at your house today.
Fr. Julian Browning