Most of you reading this will not remember the occasion, but the biblical character Zacchaeus made a guest speaking appearance at Tri-State Fellowship over 17 years ago in August of 2000. In the spirit of our theme this week of looking at people through the eyes of Jesus, here is another story of one person finding the grace of Christ reaching to him when others had nothing but disdain. I was able to search through my computer and pull up a transcript of his message that day, so here it is …
Hello, My name is Zacchaeus. How’s that? What did I just hear one of you call me? Shorty? OK – So I’m a little bit vertically challenged! Huh? Another voice … “Napolean complex?” Sorry, don’t know him or who you’re talking about. I know of Alexander the Great, but … What was that you said there in the back of the room? … Yo, calling me a “little punk” … put up your fists; I’ll show you what you’ve just insulted! …
Nah … sorry! Forgive me. For years, I’ve been a fighter. Though not a big guy, I could fight dirty! People would say, “Don’t mess with the little dude; he’s one nasty guy.” So to make a living, I took on a job for which I was perfectly suited: tax collector for the Romans. Now I had the power of the Empire at my back. They didn’t care how much extra I charged people, so long as they got their cut. I could cheat people out of extra money, and if they didn’t pay, they’d have to deal with Roman authority at their door. It was a sweet deal for me.
But … I’ve changed. Truly I have. The Apostle Paul calls it “sanctification.”
My story is in the Bible – Luke chapter 19. Many of you probably know of it and of the broad details of my life story from a children’s song about me … “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he; he climbed up into a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see …”
Have you ever wondered why I was really up that tree? It was more than just being a shrimp! It certainly was not normal for a wealthy, well-dressed, businessman to be downtown, at noon, climbing trees, and hanging out on limbs.
Let me take you back to my town … to Palestine, to Jericho … my home.
One day I went out at dawn on my typical sort of route to collect the Roman taxes (and my own), and I pull out my Google Calendar to see who I needed to visit (actually, in 2000, Zacchaeus said he was pulling out his “day-timer”).
The first house I came to was a small shanty with weeds and broken steps. Obviously these were impoverished people, but that wasn’t my concern. I was there because of the word “unpaid” marked by the names of the inhabitants.
There stood a frail, timid man who said, “Who’s there?’ And I quickly realized the man was blind. “I’ve come to collect the taxes,” said I. And he began to explain that his predicament left him unable to pay the taxes. He promised he would pay, that he merely needed 30 days. Ugh! I gave him the extra time, but said to him, “Blind man, you show me the money in 30 days, or you will be not only blind, but homeless as well!” I stomped out.
At the second house I met up with a “yellow” woman, looking as if all the blood had drained out of her. She presented with a mere skeletal frame, tight skin like leather, brittle finger nails curled over the tips; her hair was all matted-down on her boney skull. “Mr. Zacchaeus,” she said. “I know who you are and why you are here. I’ve had a blood disorder for 12 years. My husband left home, my insurance is cancelled, my inheritance is used up. Please give me 30 days to make matters right again.”
At the third house was a woman standing outside whose eyes were fixed on a nearby hill. Two children were clinging to her worn and tattered dress. Suddenly I heard this blood-curdling cry, and I saw something between a man and beast running through the gravestones of a cemetery. The woman said, “Every day I come to this place and hope my husband will see me and come home; he was not always like this. But chains won’t hold him anymore and he can’t be controlled. DEMONS!”
Man, I didn’t want to be dealing with the devil; so I said to her, “I’ll be back in 30 days, hoping you’ve worked out your situation by then.”
At the fourth house there was a wreath on the door, suggesting someone had died. A lady in black, replete with a dark veil, met me. Inside were many other women crying profusely. “Zacchaeus, I know who you are and why you are here,” she said. “I’ve been expecting you. But you are a day too late. I had the money for the taxes, but I gave it to the undertaker. My only son died, I’m going now to the funeral. Please come back in 30 days.”
What an awful day for collections! I had nothing to show for my efforts. This had better not be my experience 30 days later in this neighborhood!
30 days later …..
Approaching the first house I found the home much repaired. There was fresh paint, the steps were fixed and the grass had been trimmed. There stood a strong man with aura of authority.
“I am looking for the owner of this house,” I said.
“Yes, that is who I am,” said the burly man.
“No, no,” I replied. “You can’t be. I was here just 30 days ago and the man was blind.” This man was totally put-together, with gray eyes of steel that seemed to look right through you.
“I’m indeed that man; but let me tell you a story,” he said. “A few days after you were here, another man knocked at my door. This man man told me that Jesus was coming to town and that he could help with my lack of sight. I sat by the road and waited for Jesus to come by. As the crowd noise grew louder I heard someone say that Jesus was coming. And I called out, ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.’ Others tried to quiet me down. But Jesus said, ‘What do you want?’ And I told him that I requested to have my sight restored. Then Jesus said, ‘Go and receive your sight; your faith has made you whole.’”
I didn’t want to hear this sort of miracle baloney and started to leave. But the formerly blind man said before I stepped off his property, “Mr. Zacchaeus, before you leave, do you remember that seeing-eye dog I had? I sold him. Here is your money for the taxes.
At the second home from the previous month I encountered a woman of radiant joy. She sported a fancy hairdo with manicured nails and beautiful color in her cheeks.
“Mr. Zacchaeus, I need to apologize to you,” she said. “When you were here last month I asked for 30 days of mercy because I thought I’d be dead by now. You’d merely find a vacant house. But a friend said that Jesus was coming to town. And so I elbowed my way through the crowds to get close enough to touch him. At that point he said, ‘Who touched me? Your faith has made you whole.’ So Zacchaeus, here’s your money; I’ve been teaching an exercise class at Gold’s Gym.”
At the third home I wondered what surprise might be in store. And sure enough there was the woman with a brand new dress. I thought to myself, “I’m glad she got over the wild man, loser-dude on the hillside. But then a tall, tan and terrific man stepped out the front door. The woman said, “Meet my husband. The last time you were here, he was on the hillside. But he met a man who could tame him – Jesus, who walked in and the demons walked out and into a heard of pigs who went off a cliff and into the sea.”
The man looked at me and said, “Here’s your money; I’ve been selling smoked pork to the Gentiles.”
At the fourth house from the disastrous collections day of the prior month, a cute 12-year-old boy answered the door. I said, “I’m sorry, I must have the wrong home because the house I went to a month ago was in grieving over the death of the only son.”
“No, this is the correct house,” said the youngster. “My mom said you’d be here today … that you’re never late. Yes, I was dead, falling to the same disease that earlier had taken my dad and brother. At the funeral, mom and the mourners met Jesus; and Jesus always turns funerals into resurrections. He put his hand on my chest, and suddenly I was alive. It scared the undertaker so bad that he took back his casket and returned mom’s money. So here’s the payment for your taxes.”
Not long after that day, a man from my town of Jericho said, “Have you heard that Jesus is coming to Jericho? So I ran into town and climbed up a tree along the pathway, not just because I’m a short man in a tall world. But rather it was because of all I’d seen and heard that Jesus had done in the lives of others. I needed to see Jesus to learn if he could fix my blindness, my sickness, my evil oppression, the dead and empty hole that was in me.
Jesus looked up at me and said, “I’m going to your house today.” Some of those local synagogue folks started to say some of the same things some of you church folks might say about someone who crosses the tracks to connect with downcast people. They said, “Isn’t it awful that he’s hanging out with the sinners!” But Jesus said, “That’s why I came – to seek and to save those who are lost!” Jesus met my needs and fixed my hurts.
Most of you nice people look like you’ve already met Jesus. And surely you now know what your job is if you want to be like Jesus. Yes, you need to do what he did – seek lost people. See them as He saw them. Cross the tracks, and in that way you are bringing Jesus to your town.
If you do that, you’re a big person – in the way being big really counts!