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Pentecost 24 October 30, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell

PENTECOST 24  Proper 26 Year C

Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 32:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12;
Luke 19:1-10
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, October 30, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
Who is the shortest man
in the Bible?
You may be surprised to know
it isn’t Zacchaeus.
Who is it then,
you may ask.
And, even if you don’t ask,
I am going to tell you.
I learned this interesting factoid
from my Old Testament professor
at the Mercer School of Theology
          in the Diocese of Long Island,
the wonderful
Bishop Jonathan Sherman,
who never tired of pointing out
that the distinction belongs
to a friend of Job:
Bildad the Shuhite.

OK, now that’s out of the way . . .
It is a fact that
Biblical authors
seldom mentioned
the physical appearance
of the people about whom they wrote . . .
What they looked like
was usually beside the point.
Today, however,
we do have Luke’s
description of Zacchaeus
          as “short in stature.”
Thus his predicament in a crowd,
and thus his solution.  
So much did he want to see Jesus
that he scrambled up a tree
to peer over the heads of those
          taller than he.
This man of wealth,
this important personage
          of a certain stature
          (civic if not physical)  . . .
the chief tax collector, for heaven’s sake –
well, not for heaven’s sake . . .
but for Caesar’s . . .

Anyway, Zacchaeus was in the grip
of a strange yearning.
If asked,
he probably would not have had the words
to explain it.
So there he was,
in front of everyone,
dangling like an eager child
          from the branches of a tree,
searching the road
          along which Jesus was to come.
What was it Jesus said
about the Kingdom of God?
“Truly I tell you, unless you change
and become like children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”    [Matthew 18:3]
As the story unfolds,
we see that’s where Zacchaeus’
childlike enthusiasm
was taking him,
to an encounter with Jesus,
          who was already coming toward him,
          and in Jesus,
                   to an encounter
                   with the kingdom of heaven.

if you inquired of most people
in first century Palestine
          as to the final destination
                   of a tax collector
the kingdom of heaven
          would not be their answer  . . .
No way . . .
because tax collectors
worked for Rome,
the hated occupier,
and because most of them were cheats,
overcharging taxpayers
          in order to line their own pockets
          with what was left
                   after remittance of the amount due
                             the emperor.
Zacchaeus was a chief tax collecter,
with a whole district’s worth of tax collectors
          under his authority.
We can be pretty sure
          that his fine house, his fine clothes, his fine wife,
                   his fine servants . . .
          were the result of the hefty cut he took
                   of those illicit profits.

Tax collectors –
no wonder they were so often mentioned
in the same breath as sinners.
It would make a good
crossword puzzle clue.
Tax collectors and ____________ (7 letters).
The ones with whom
Jesus loved to dine.
Zacchaeus was a shady character,
in his spirit there was plenty of guile.
He was an exploiter of his own people
          and his own employees
for the benefit of Rome and himself . . .
And yet,
there was this strange yearning,
something to do with
          this man Jesus,
          about whom he had heard so much,
and he wanted to see for himself . . .
. . . like those we pray for
in our Sunday prayers,
“all who seek God with sincere hearts.”

Jesus could feel the pull of a sincere heart
a mile off;
and he never passed one by.
He found Zacchaeus perched in his tree,
greeted him by name,
and invited himself to his home.
The crowd didn’t like it:
“He has gone to be the guest
of a sinner,” they grumbled.
(Let the one who is without sin
cast the first aspersion.)
Surely Zacchaeus heard their murmuring,
and just as surely in that moment
he knew that what they said of him
was true.
He saw himself as he had been
and realized
he no longer wanted to be
          as he had been.
Everything was changing
because Jesus had called him by name
and was coming to stay at his home.

How quickly,
how eagerly,
Zacchaeus sought
to set things right.
“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.”
Suddenly extravagant beyond belief,
he would share half his wealth
          with those who had more need of it than he,
and repay those he had defrauded
(and we can be pretty sure there were many)
not the amount in question
          plus the usual 20% penalty on the amount,
but four times the amount itself.
His old life of taking was over,
the new life of giving was just beginning.
He would no longer be a rich man,
but he would be a happy one,
because that day
          salvation had come to his house.
“Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
and whose sin is put away.”
What gratitude and thanksgiving,
what rejoicing there must have been
at his table that night.

The message of Luke’s story of Zacchaeus
is of hope,
of forgiveness,
of transformation,
of new life in Jesus
who comes
to seek out and to save the lost,
no matter how lost
          we may be
                   or think we are.
new life.
What a story of encouragement
for Luke’s community
as they struggled to live faithful lives
in their uncertain and dangerous era.
What a story of encouragement
for this community of faith
as we struggle to live faithful lives
in this awful and uncertain season
in our nation’s history . . .
so much anger, so much incivility, so much violence . . .
It gives me joy
to think of Zacchaeus
with all his household
rejoicing at table with Jesus.
With what happy determination
he must have set out the next day
to see what his new life could mean,
          not for himself, but for others,
a new life of seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed,
          defending the orphan, pleading for the widow.
Of course,
his sudden enthusiasm
would be tested by life
          and tried by the times,
but he was on the way
to living for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
It gives me joy
to think of
all this household of faith
rejoicing at table with Jesus
week after week after week,
and, whatever the yearnings
that brought us here,
strengthened by the very being of Jesus
          in this bread and wine we receive,
          the Sacrament of his Body and Blood . . .

But we don’t come here
to get out of our troublesome world,
but to go back into it,
to set out with happy determination,
          renewed in hope and trust
to be ministers of hope,
of gentleness,
of kindness,
of peace,
God’s agents of transformation . . .
We, too,
are tested by life
and tried by our trying times
but we are on the way
to living for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
It gives me joy
to be reminded
that the greatest constant in this life,
in this world of strife,
is the presence and power
of God
in Christ.