Sermon 30 October 2016
Fourth Sunday Before Advent Year C
‘Today salvation has come to this house’
a funny question. It’s one we might not think to ask.
through a crowd in the busy town of Jericho, Jesus’ eye lights on the one
person everyone else thinks has no business being there. The
y’re trying to shun him. The
the people of Jericho in Jesus’ day had this ancestral reason to despise the
collaborator. It’s not surprising that Zacchaeus can’t get through the
crowd; nobody is going to give way to him but being present when the prophet of
Nazareth arrives – this is really matters to him. He’s resourceful and he
doesn’t stand on his dignity. So he climbs a sycamore tree. He sees - yes but
also he is seen. Jesus sees him, speaks to him, calls him by his name, so that
now the eyes of everyone are on him, all the many people of the town who scorn
Come down” says Jesus. What’s up? Why? What’s going to happen to me?
‘What’s the prophet going to do with this traitor to the covenant?’ the
townsfolk wonder. “Come down; for I must stay at your house today”.
says Zacchaeus was happy to welcome Jesus. This is no idle curiosity which
Zacchaeus has. He’s not there to photo-bomb the passing celebrity.
must stay at your house”.
that man, freedom is restored; he glorifies God and all the people, when they
saw it, they praised God too.
and come down for I must stay at your house today”. Jesus speaks with the same
note of command; a command which restores Zacchaeus’ freedom. He, like the
blind man, has lived cut off from his people but when the blind man saw again,
the people rejoiced. Here when Zacchaeus is included again, the people - perhaps
the same people - grumble.
we look to Zacchaeus to show evidence of a change of heart. Perhaps our minds
spool back to last Sunday’s Gospel and another tax collector - one in the
Temple, who shrank back into the shadows, cast his eyes down, beat his breast
and prayed “God be merciful to me, a sinner”. Surely Zacchaeus is the same?
So it is with these ears that we hear his announcement: “Half my possessions I
will give to the poor and anyone I have defrauded I will pay back four times as
much”. It sounds like a classic instance of repentance in action; a complete
turn-around in character in response to Jesus’ unearned gift to him of …
well, of his presence at lunch, of himself, his time, his regard.
maybe not. The
two verbs in Greek, ‘give’ and ‘pay back’, are not future, not
something Zacchaeus has just decided to do: they are in the present tense.
perhaps this is not the only way a present tense can be understood. Maybe when
Zacchaeus says “I do it”, he is so caught up into the unimagined joy of that
moment, so that the good intention to which his heart prompts him in response is
already as sure to him as an established practice. He’s speaking in present
terms of something he fully intends to do.
point is this: it doesn’t matter whether Zacchaeus is making a generous
gesture for the first time or declaring an established practice.
doesn’t matter because the salvation which comes to Zacchaeus is not what he
does. It is not the superbly liberal giving of half his possessions. It is not
the four-fold restitution he makes to those he has defrauded (and there is no
‘if’ about that in the original Greek - he’s certainly acted in that way).
Zacchaeus doesn’t earn his salvation. He doesn’t even confirm it by this
great give-away. He doesn’t fix it in place.
did the Son of Man come? To keep us up to the mark? To judge? To condemn? No,
Jesus in his brilliant, intuitive, personal recasting of the Law and the
Prophets, gives a wholly different answer: the Son of Man came to seek out and
save the lost. Here is the divine good shepherd whom Ezekiel foresaw living
among us as an Israelite villager.
a collection he finds: an adulterous wife; an heretical leper; an importunate
blind beggar; slow-witted fishermen; a man completely out of his wits; a man who
can’t move a muscle and is completely dependent on his friends; a woman hiding
a debilitating disease; a thief dying on a cross. All of these he seeks out and
All Saints approaches it is good to be reminded who they are who are numbered
among the Saints, the firstborn enrolled in heaven: the people everyone else
thinks has no business being there. All Saints is a day when we remember who it
is who has kindled the flame of love in their hearts.
“For the Son of man came to seek out and to save the lost”.
Oswin Gartside CR