Summary: As Jesus makes his way toward Jerusalem and the Triumphant Entry of Palm/Passion Sunday he makes an important stop in Jericho to have dinner with Zacchaeus the Innocent. How many times in life do we jump to the wrong conclusions?
Zacchaeus the “Innocent”
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. 2 A man there named Zacchaeus, a ruler among tax collectors, was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but, being a short man, he couldn’t because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today.” 6 So Zacchaeus came down at once, happy to welcome Jesus. 7 Everyone who saw this grumbled, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today, salvation has come to this household because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 The Human One came to seek and save the lost.” Luke 19:1-9 CEB
Intro: I’ll be honest. This car was owned by a teenage boy. It is way overpriced. It burns oil and smokes. It gets horrible gas mileage and something in the trunk smells like rotten eggs on the inside. How many of you would like to buy that used car? Anyone? No?
Then there is the young couple who was trying to come up with a name for their first baby girl. They narrowed it down to two possibilities. Sally was one choice. Suri was the other choice. So they decided to look up the origin and meaning of the names. Sally is Hebrew or old English meaning princess. Suri also in Hebrew means princess but in Japanese Suri means pickpocket and in Hindu means pig. How would you like to live your entire life with a name like pickpocket or pig?
Now we come to Zacchaeus. Every child Sunday school class has taught the story of Zacchaeus. There is even a child’s song that we could sing. “Zacchaeus was a wee, little man, And a wee, little man was he, He climbed up in a sycamore tree, For the Lord he wanted to see.”
Zacchaeus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name meaning “innocent.” (Holman Bible Dictionary) He is described as a corrupt tax collector in first-century Jericho. Even here in Luke 19 the crowds were displeased with Jesus because “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner.” I have never once heard a sermon about an honest tax collector. It seems that I was always led to believe that Zacchaeus is just like all the other rich, and corrupt, and dishonest, tax collectors in the bible.
But I became intrigued when I read from a parallel bible showing the New International Version says, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor.” Along side the King James Version that says “Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.”
So I posted a plea on Facebook to all Greek aficionados. We preachers really like to take a close analysis of the grammar which most of the time does not really do much to advance our understanding of the story as a whole. It is more often an exercise in boring futility.
Even in a seminary chapel service a sermon going into detail parsing the Greek text as either punctiliar or linear, defining the verb as present indicative active tense would cause most people to fall over in their pew from boredom.
I know that if you had in your hands rotten tomatoes that most of you would probably be throwing them at me right now as I ran and hid for cover.
But I believe that there is a part of the story about Zacchaeus that needs to be preached.
Just because the advertisement for a used car for sale that says: Garage kept. Highway miles. Owned by a little old lady who drove it mostly to church on Sunday. May not be true.
It may not be true that Zacchaeus was such a shady, fraudulent, dishonorable person either. Oh, the crowd said he was.
In fact the crowd murmured and grumbled and was displeased that Jesus would go to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner. But think about “who was the crowd?”
In the crowd were Jews, original descendants of the tribes of Israel that ultimately wanted their Jewish nation restored. Zealots who were radical militant wanting to overthrown Roman along with its tax collectors. Pharisees and other religious political party leaders who wanted influence and power. To them anyone associated with Rome or the collection of money for its government would have been seen as bad.