It’s that time of year again…
when evil lurks around every corner... when slimy, loathsome, ghoulish,
creatures appear at your door…
and they all want something from
Actually, the people demanding our vote no longer come door-to-door as they used to.
Nowadays, they make their way into our homes through the television screen—slinging mud at their opponents, and threatening us with all kinds of dire predictions if we don’t give them what they want.
It’s really been scary this year!
As a result, most of us will just be glad when it’s all over, and the political ads go away for a while.
Which is sad—since we all agree on the need to elect fair, honest, and committed leaders.
That’s all I have to say about politics—except to ask you to pray and vote on November 8th.
The main character in this morning’s gospel is a person we would be even more frightened to find at our door than a politician:
It’s the tax-man!
It happened in a town called Jericho.
A tourist visiting Israel usually wants to go to Jericho.
Besides being home to perhaps the most famous short tax collector in history,
it’s where “Joshua fit the battle…and the walls came a tumbling down.”
But it isn’t that easy to visit Jericho, as Elizabeth and I discovered on our trip to the Holy Land.
Much as we wanted to see it, we couldn’t go there.
Jericho is under Palestinian control, and is closed to tourists.
So we missed seeing the sycamore tree in today’s Gospel—all because of politics!
(I said I wasn’t going to mention politics again—but as you know, that’s easier said than done!)
Let’s get back to the tax collector.
He’s someone most of us met a long time ago in Sunday school—and I trust he’s
still a familiar figure there!
Children tend to love him.
After all every child knows what it’s like to be short!
His name is Zacchaeus.
What we learned about him in Sunday school can be summarized in a song that some of you may remember:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
A wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree,
The Savior for to see.
Zacchaeus may be loved by Sunday school children, but he was not loved in Jericho.
He had at least three things going against him:
First of all, he was a tax collector—the chief tax collector.
He had a prestigious title—but not one that won him friends!
Zacchaeus wasn’t working for the IRS.
It was even worse than that.
He was collecting taxes for Imperial Rome—and that made him a traitor.
Tax collectors were so despised that they were not allowed to hold public office, to give testimony in Jewish courts, or even to attend worship services in the synagogue.
He had a fancy title, and he was successful.
But Zacchaeus was a lonely man—a man without a country.
The second thing Zacchaeus had going against him was that he was rich.
It wasn’t just that he was rich.
It was how he got his money—and how he treated his neighbors to get it.
Zacchaeus was rich because, as the tax man, he was free to collect as much as he liked.
He could add on a little more—or a lot more—for his troubles.
And if anyone complained, or refused to pay, Zacchaeus’ gang of “insurance adjustors” would be sure to pay them a visit!
So he wasn’t only a traitor—he was also a crook.
The third thing going against Zacchaeus was that he was short in stature.
He was short!
Let’s admit it: There’s a prejudice in our society against short people.
I’ve been told that the tallest candidate almost always wins an election—although it’s not likely to happen this year. (Oops! Politics again!)
Some of us know what it’s like to be short.
I’ve gone through my entire adult life saying that I’m “5 foot six-and-a-half inches tall.”
Tall people don’t count the half-inches!
When I was at the Citadel, they put us in companies according to height.
My company was the shortest:
We always marched last.
They called us the “Duck-butts!”
Short people agree with Rodney Dangerfield: We “don’t get no respect.”
And neither did Zacchaeus!
It was these three things—his title, his wealth and his stature—that drove Zacchaeus up a tree—and that’s where Jesus found him.
The children’s song tells what happened next:
And when the Savior passed that way,
He looked up in the tree,
He said, “Zacchaeus, you come down;
For it’s you I’ve come to see.”
When Jesus called the little man by name, I imagine he almost fell out of his tree!
Jesus was actually looking for him!
The Savior had come to stay at his house!
No wonder he scrambled down!
Zacchaeus knew he was a sinner—and he knew his need for God.
He knew he needed to turn his life around—and Jesus was just the man to help him do it.
So it is with all who receive Jesus as Savior.
As C.S. Lewis has pointed out, the Good News of Jesus Christ is only “good news” for those who know they are sinners.
It has nothing to offer those who believe they are righteous!
Notice how the “good people” of Jericho reacted.
They grumbled that Jesus would even speak to a sinner like Zacchaeus—let alone enter his home as a guest.
So Jesus explained his actions—He had come to “seek out and save the lost!”
He didn’t come to congratulate the good.
He had come looking for the one who needed Him most.
And whether we know it or not, that “one” is not just Zacchaeus—but you and me!
From that day on, Zacchaeus was a changed man!
As the song says,
Zacchaeus came down from that tree, And he said, “A better man I’ll be.”
“I’ll give my money to help the poor,
What a better man I’ll be.”
From that day on, Zacchaeus stopped taking and started giving.
He gave out of gratitude, because of what Jesus had given him.
He had found what was missing from his life—because Jesus had found him!
The truth is that we are all seekers—the short, the tall, the rich, the poor, the famous and not.
Underneath the surface, we are all the same.
We are all looking for what Jesus offers.
“Salvation” is the theological word for it.
But simply put, we are all seeking a personal relationship with the God who made us.
And in Jesus—who calls us each by name, and would not have any one of us perish—we find what we seek.
We are able to find Him because He first came to find us!
He came to “seek out and save the lost.”
And whether we know it or not, that means you and me!