“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.”
This song, burned into the memory of possibly every child Christian in America, is rooted in a story in Luke 19:1-10. Van Christian, pastor of First Baptist Church in Comanche, preached on this story Sunday, Oct. 30, and said some things that need to be heard by many of us.
Two things Dr. Christian said stood out:
1) The crowd tries to keep Zacchaeus from seeing Jesus. Verse 3:
He (Zacchaeus) was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature (NRSV).
The verse simply says Zacchaeus couldn’t see because of the crowd, and his shortness made it impossible. But Van is suggesting an interesting possibility because of what is revealed about the crowd after Jesus calls out to Zacchaeus. Verse 7:
All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner”
The crowd didn’t like Zacchaeus. He stole their money, as he would confess to Jesus. They saw him as a sinner and saw themselves seemingly as righteous. It is not hard to imagine that the crowd took some joy in keeping the despised tax collector from a good viewing location as Jesus passed.
Dr. Christian, in his sermon, said something important for all of us. “Don't be a part of the crowd today that does something to keep people from Jesus.” Sometimes we Christians do not give “sinners” the credit for the same desire to see Jesus that we once possessed.
2) Jesus saw Zacchaeus “because “he was looking,” Van said. Verse 10:
For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (NRSV).
This is such a powerful thought. Jesus is looking for sinners, he’s even looking for the worst of sinners. Jesus knows better than the sinners that their sin is destroying them, keeping them from fellowship with God and neighbors. Jesus is looking and finding. He is looking for each of us and finding us.
But what if Zacchaeus had not come down from that tree and welcomed Jesus into his home and into life? No transformation. No repentance. No new love of God and neighbor.
One wonders what happened next. After Zacchaeus’s conversion, how did the crowd later respond after Zacchaeus made restitution and changed his ways.. I suspect some continued to hold a grudge while others forgave and moved forward in honoring God because of the deliverance from sin they had been experienced through Christ. The grudge holders would miss the joy that forgiving people would enjoy.
In Comanche, Dr. Christian asked the church to think about what “sinners” they might be preventing from coming to Christ. Then the pastor challenged them. “Maybe today you're a sycamore tree, and you're the means by which someone will finally see the Lord.”
(The banner artwork of Zacchaeus was by Niels Larsen Stevns 1864-1941. It is in the public domain.)