Summary: Relationship with Jesus leads to real change, as it did for Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)
There are a lot of places the preacher can go with this text, and I suspect many of the hearers and readers will have been exposed to most of them.
One of the traditional, and absolutely valid and true, expositions includes Jesus’ choice to minister to those who were outsiders. Tax collectors were, indeed, absolutely despised in Judaism – tax collectors and prostitutes. Zacchaeus wasn’t just any old tax collector – he was the chief tax collector, responsible for his own perfidy and that of others. He was a powerful symbol of the injustice meted out to the Jewish people. His wealth just made it worse – rich because of his collaboration with the powers of occupation and repression. Mercifully, his fellow Jews might have thought, at least he wasn’t physically impressive (he was short). His money didn’t get him any favours in this context – he couldn’t breeze through the crowd and expect his importance and wealth to get him an audience with Jesus. As an aside – how different that is to the way many contemporary religious leaders behave. If you’re rich and powerful, you’re pretty much guaranteed attention from our religious leaders. If you’re poor or an outsider, you’re unlikely to get the time of day. Anyway, back to the story. He has to do something silly and undignified to get to see Jesus. He climbs a tree. Jesus sees him – really sees him. He is known inside and out, and Jesus accepts him. He didn’t say ‘get right, and then I’ll come to visit you’. He invited himself home, and was welcomed by Zacchaeus into his home. While they’re there, Zacchaeus promises to make right what wrongs he’s done, and Jesus declares Zacchaeus’ new state – saved, restored, and no longer lost.
But, I don’t want to labour that exposition, because we get it. Jesus came to save the lost – people like us – and he often preferred the company of people like us, rather than the socially important.
I want to touch on two things. The first is to take very seriously the imperative for all of us to change. The second is that it is Jesus who does the changing, and being in real relationship with Jesus effects the change.
Do you want to change? Zacchaeus might not have known that an interaction with Jesus would lead to the radical reordering of his whole life. He may have had people who depended on him – a wife, family, servants – and here he was, giving away his money, his position, his security. He was willing to make himself foolish and undignified to see Jesus, and the result was, a few hours later, to be changed.
We can’t play at this. Coming to worship each week, praying, reading the Bible, fellowship, giving financially and of your time, receiving the sacrament. We can’t play at it. All of these things are meetings with Jesus, and if we take that at all seriously, we’re going to be changed. It can’t help but happen, because Jesus means change. Jesus means a radical reordering of who we are, and what we do, and it isn’t a game. If you’re not willing to be changed, it is time to stop. You can do better things with your time.