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Message Supplement for Sunday 3 November 2019: “Short but Sweet”

Luke 19:1-10 reveals Zacchaeus, the diminutive rich man who wanted to see Jesus. A wonderful message is that even when you come up short, God’s redemption can elevate you.

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 obtain a view. The spectacle of Zacchaeus scooting up a tree was met by Jesus’ call for him to come down. “I will stay in your house,” Jesus told Zacchaeus (Luke 19:5b). The enthusiastic, tree-climbing rich man slid down the trunk (hopefully without getting splinters). Meanwhile, observers criticized Jesus’ invitation because Zacchaeus was a despised tax collector.

Knowing that public opinion was against him, and that the time was ripe to make things right, Zacchaeus declared his mission: “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 shame his critics, then it would be this public pledge of honesty and restitution. Don’t you wish that today’s political leaders would follow Zacchaeus’ example? Zacchaeus wanted to demonstrate that despite his despised occupation as tax collector, he was pledged to God. Zacchaeus held himself to a higher standard and he had the hutzpah to declare it publicly—a rare feat both now and 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. There’s something potentially tantalizing in that it wasn’t just Zacchaeus who received salvation but so also did everyone in his house. Previously, Zacchaeus had been dismissed as a corrupt person. But Jesus pronounced Zacchaeus righteous.

What about Zachhaeus’ wealth? It has become popular to condemn the uber-rich one-percenters. Yet many people are successful because they are hard workers who are rewarded for their talents. Rather than dismiss such individuals the challenge is to learn from them. Yes, there’s evidence that some highly prominent people have obtained wealth through immoral means or they mostly inherited it. However, throughout the Bible extreme wealth or dire poverty are not absolute predictors of a person’s righteousness. It may be easy to be envious and resentful against wealthy people. However, even when people deserve criticism it doesn’t justify hatred (which is often more harmful to the hater).

Some folks are amused by the thought of Zacchaeus scurrying up and down a tree. As funny as it appears, the struggle is to not dismiss people based on stereotypes and prejudices. Zacchaeus was rich, but ironically he professed a high standard of public accountability. Sadly, there’s a plague of recent political leaders who ignore Zacchaeus’ example.  Having sacrificed their character and integrity for a false political messiah means that those who once shouted “family values!” now conspire against decency and honesty, refusing to raise even their voices against evil as they become further complicit in scapegoating the innocent.

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. Another insight is that whatever you do, neither your stature nor status crushes your spirit. Physical limitations, wealth and poverty, reputation—none of this need separate you from God. Zacchaeus’ case is a reminder that even a 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 your relationship with the Almighty?

Zacchaeus’ redemption meant that his personal morality transcended all legal and moral requirements (it was enough to please Jesus, after all). Zacchaeus may have been of small stature, but don’t sell yourself short. What is the tall tree that you must climb to get a better perspective on life and duty? If you’re not climbing a literal trunk with branches then there are still distractions and temptations to overcome. It’s worth the challenge to ascend to a higher moral standard, one from which you can also enjoy a closer walk with God.

All people have moral failings, so care is needed lest hypocrisy creep-in when someone looks in the mirror and denies their problems. The greatest wealth you can pursue is inward, the vast spiritual potential you can either develop or ignore. Gold comes and goes, but the loving choices you make are priceless gifts for everyone. We all struggle to do the right thing, but with renewed determination you can ascend not only a tree but when things let you down you’ll be in the hands of God.

 –Reverend Larry Hoxey

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