Message Supplement for 30 October 2016–“Short but Sweet”

Remember Zacchaeus? He’s the diminutive rich man who wanted to see Jesus. Zacchaeus was fortunate to be near Jesus, who was strolling by one day amid a crowd of onlookers. Sadly, Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus because too many people lined the path. Undaunted, he climbed a tree to get that sweet view. The spectacle of Zacchaeus huffing up a tree prompted Jesus to stop and call him down. “I will stay in your house,” Jesus told Zacchaeus (Luke 19:5b). The wealthy tree-climber slid down the trunk (hopefully without getting splinters). Meanwhile, observers criticized Jesus’ invitation because Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a despised role in both ancient and modern times.
Knowing that public opinion was against him, Zacchaeus declared his piety to answer his critics. “I will give half of my possessions to the poor, and I will pay any defrauded persons four times more than I defrauded them” (Luke 19:8). What a commitment! If anything would silence his critics, then this public pledge of honesty should. Zacchaeus wanted to demonstrate that despite his occupation as tax collector, he was pledged to do the right thing and love his neighbor. How many of us are willing to hold ourselves to a higher standard? This level of devotion to God and the hutzpah to declare it publicly is as rare now as it was then.
Jesus’ response to Zacchaeus was equally remarkable. “Today salvation has come to this house,” he told the crowd, “because he [Zacchaeus] too is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). There we have it, a rare congratulatory comment from Jesus. Zacchaeus’ determination to exceed the religious requirements led Jesus to declare that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ family. Zacchaeus received validation from Jesus to the point that it spread to everyone in his house. Zacchaeus had been dismissed as a corrupt, evil person by his critics, but Jesus pronounced him righteous. It is this type of irony that gets peoples’ attention and makes the Bible such a source of lively inspiration.
There’s much criticism today of rich folks. Suspending judgement for now on the uber-rich one-percenters, most normal people face daily choices to do right or wrong. Extreme wealth or dire poverty are not consistent predictors of who will make the best choices. We may be jealous and resent that certain people have more possessions or money than we do but that doesn’t justify hatred. Zacchaeus was rich, but ironically he professed a high standard of accountability. Jesus acknowledged Zacchaeus’ personal ethic as worthy of salvation. Many people are successful because they are creative, hard-working entrepreneurs who takes risks but who also are immensely rewarded. Rather than castigate such individuals we are challenged to learn from them. Since all people have moral failings we can avoid hypocrisy if we look in the mirror and work on our own problems. The greatest wealth we can pursue is inward, the vast spiritual potential we can either develop or ignore. Gold comes and goes, but the loving choices we make are priceless gifts for everyone.
The story of Zacchaeus provides hope that we can overcome challenges as we seek God. Living a reputable life isn’t easy. Restraining destructive appetites, supporting the common good, and living a virtuous life are as difficult as ever. If it were easy, then everyone would be doing it. Zacchaeus’ fantastically generous pledge to help people can motivate us to go further. Another insight is that whatever we do in life, our reputation need not crush our spirit. Physical limitations, social-economic status, reputation—none of these need separate us from God, if we are faithful. Zacchaeus’ case reminds us that even an impish man with a horrible job can earn Jesus’ praise. What does Jesus say about you? Has salvation come to your house and are you blessing your family through great choices?
Some folks laugh in visualizing Zacchaeus scurrying up and down a tree. As funny as it appears, his situation requires us to not dismiss people based on stereotypes and prejudices. Zacchaeus’ high-standard of compensating people transcended all legal and moral requirements (it was enough to please Jesus!). Do you join Zacchaeus in forging a clearer view of God? What is the tall tree that you must climb to get a better perspective? If not a literal trunk with branches then there are distractions and temptations to face and overcome. It’s worth the hassle to climb higher as we strive for a closer walk the divine. God wants the best for us and we mustn’t sell ourselves short. Managing our life is our immediate task and God will help as we make the room to receive God’s blessings. Finding God is worth whatever effort you put into the journey. We all struggle to do the right thing, but it is our renewed determination that pushes us up that difficult tree. –Reverend Larry Hoxey.