Pentecost 24

I spent the early portion of this week at the diocesan clergy conference down in Galloway. It was very well run this year, which was nice, but we had to listen to a speaker tell us about “Fearless Church Fundraising” for three days, which was horrifying. Maybe they were trying to get us ready for Halloween, because trying to squeeze basic sales techniques into a theological framework is quite a trick. The treat was getting to see my fellow clerics for a few days and learning from their experiences, and then coming home to today’s Gospel story of that classic little fundraiser, Zacchaeus.


Poor Zacchaeus. “So frequently has he been unfairly compared to the twentieth-century Internal Revenue Service in the United States that his reputation has been sorely tarnished.”[1]  But he was a complicated guy living in a complicated time, and as Luke tells the story, he was looking for more, looking to be more than a tiny, disliked pawn of the Romans.


Zacchaeus was rich.  He was a well-known, prominent tax collector, and he was smart enough to know that some of the people who worked for him were probably a little shady.


“Sometimes “rich” can mean “greedy” in the Bible, but as this story progresses it will become clear that Zacchaeus does not seem to be greedy.  As a toll collector, Zacchaeus bid to Rome for the right to collect tolls, not personally but through agents.  When Rome accepted his bid, Zacchaeus paid them the toll for his region in full.  Then it was up to him to recoup his bid by collecting the tolls and trying to make a profit if possible.  He relied on agents to do that work.  Enviable as it may sound, few toll collectors managed to recoup their bid and fewer still managed to make a profit.  Zacchaeus was rich in that others, hired agents, did his work for him.  In his case, “rich” did not mean “greedy.”[2]


“It also happened that he wanted to see what Jesus was like.  So, running ahead of a big crowd’s rush, he climbed a sycamore to see what he could see.”[3]


What an interesting scene.  Zacchaeus, the guy that many of his neighbors snickered at when he walked past in his nice robes, tailored for a child, on his way to the tax office, was now straddling a tree branch to watch an itinerant preacher and miracle worker walk by.  Note that Zacchaeus wasn’t looking to be noticed himself, nor did he hope to stop Jesus and ask Him some important metaphysical question.  Zacchaeus wasn’t trying to justify himself to Jesus or even to ask Jesus for forgiveness.  Zacchaeus just hoped to get a glimpse of the man everyone had been talking about, this Jesus who just might be the savior everyone had been longing for.


But like everyone who truly seeks to get a glimpse of Jesus, more than just a glimpse is given.  “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”


“Zacchaeus’ determination to see Jesus and his climbing up into the sycamore tree are taken as a sign of genuine faith, which could break through the barriers between God and human beings,” and with that barrier broken, nothing is impossible, even the Son of God coming to stay with you, declaring you righteous, declaring that peace and salvation have come upon your house.[4]


We are all, in our own way, a pack a Zacchaeuses (Zacchaei?).  We are all, in our own way, stunted, unsure about ourselves and our acquaintances.  We all might suspect ourselves of sinning in ways we don’t even realize, making up for those things in any way that we can.  We are also all here, sitting this, our sycamore tree, trying to get a glimpse of Jesus.


But there’s no trick to what Jesus told us today, just the treat: that the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost, to visit this house and to declare those who come to Him in faith as His own, to declare that salvation has come to our house, that the Kingdom of God is ours.



[1] John J. Pilch.

[2] Ibid.

[3] John Kavanaugh, S.J.

[4] Reginald Fuller.

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