Summary: A sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost Year C.
When Jesus came to the place,
he looked up and said to him,
“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down;
for I must stay at your house today.”
Have you ever stayed at someone else’s house before? Of course you have. Even the younger ones in our families have probably spent the night at a friend’s or relative’s home on occasion. I used to love to go and spend a Friday night at a friend’s house and stay up late and all that.
My friend Greg loves to tell the story about staying over one night at one of his friend’s homes. Greg and this guy he was staying with played soccer together in college down in South Carolina. And Greg went with his friend back to his parent’s house one weekend to get away from his dorm room for a while and to have a change of scenery for a bit.
His friend had a much younger sister who was about seven or eight and she was pretty involved in acting and had even been in a few movies here and there. And Greg tells the story of spending the night there and sleeping most of the next day away and being lazy and not even getting cleaned up. He took a nap and didn’t wake up until almost supper time. When he woke up he realized that it was about 7:00 pm and so he stumbled down the stairs to see what everybody else was doing and to try and find some supper. And you know how it is when you first wake up from a long nap, you’re kind of in this state somewhere between sleep and awake. And Greg makes his way down the steps and he looks over on the couch and he sees this very “pretty woman” sitting there on the couch with his friend’s little sister. Thinking he was seeing things, he goes back upstairs and talks to his friend and says, “Dude, I gotta stop taking naps. I could swear that I just walked down the steps and Julia Roberts was sitting on your couch.” To which his friend said, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you she was coming over for dinner tonight.” Greg then tells about how he punched his friend in the arm because here he was meeting Julia Roberts looking like he spent the last two weeks on a desert island.
It turns out that Greg’s friend’s sister had been in a movie with Julia Roberts and they had become friends and she would come over from time to time. But I mean really, who just forgets to tell their college-aged male friend that Julia Roberts is going to be sitting on the couch downstairs and that she’s going to have supper with them that night! Greg jumps at every chance he gets to tell the story about how he walked down the steps and Julia Roberts just happened to be sitting on the couch. I imagine it would be slightly surreal to sit across the table from someone famous and pass them the Hamburger Helper and the green beans in a subdivision somewhere in South Carolina.
In our gospel lesson this morning, another famous guest shows up at the home of an unsuspecting individual named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a rich man, he was a chief tax collector which meant that he didn’t do much of anything. He had others who were engaged in the real work of going around and collecting the taxes from people. He would have put in a bid to Rome for the privilege of collecting taxes. The tax collector would pay all the taxes of that region up front, and then re-coop their money from what they collected from the people in that region. And they were free to collect more than what Rome required—that’s how they made their profit.
And this rich and powerful man heard that Jesus was coming through the town. He had probably heard about the miracles he had performed and the teachings he had been spreading around the country. But as rich and powerful as Zacchaeus was, he was pretty short. If I was making a movie of this story, I would cast somebody like Danny DeVito as Zacchaeus. So, to see Jesus he climbs up in a tree. And as Jesus walks by he spots Zacchaeus in the tree and tells him to hurry down because he’s going to stay at his house and eat some Spaghetti-O’s with him that night.
I imagine Zacchaeus was feeling a little bit like my friend Greg at this point. He hurries home and has the house prepared for Jesus. I can’t read this passage and not hear that song about him I learned in Sunday School as a little kid. “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the Lord walked by that day he looked up in the tree. And he said, ‘Zacchaeus, you come down. For I’m going to your house today. For I’m going to your house today.’”