OUT ON A LIMB: Luke 19: 1-10
Reverend Scott Parker
The Gospel of Luke: What sets this Gospel apart is the people: wonderful descriptions of real people-Luke is interested in people, and what most fascinates Luke about Jesus is that Jesus is interested in people, too. And when Jesus enters their lives, they are never the same.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”  So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ”
 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
*The Picture of Zacchaeus out on a tree limb is one of the more vivid images from Jesus’ ministry. It’s one of the first ones a child learns in Sunday school. There is even a song: “Zacchaeus was a wee little man…” Such a great story
*But there is something I’ve wondered
WHAT GOT ZACCHAEUS OUT ONTO THAT TREE LIMB?
Well, to see Jesus above the crowd, true, but you see,
GROWN MEN DON’T CLIMB TREES
ESPECIALLY A MAN LIKE ZACCHAEUS
There’s a lot more to this man than just a cute little guy trying to see above the crowd. Zacchaeus was a small man, but he lived in a big city: JERICHO:
-Commercial / political center
-shipping ports / Herod’s palace / temple of Dionysis:
comparable to living in NYC or LA.
And in the city of Jericho…
Zacchaeus was (probably) one of the richest, most popular, most envied people around
He was Rich; Jewish tax gatherer—hired by Rome—his job was to bring in a certain amount of $ then could keep whatever else he could get. He probably wore exquisite (Armani) robes, probably lived in a palace, dined on the best food.
He has Status; Zacchaeus was not just a tax gatherer; he was a CHIEF tax gather, with a whole crew of tax gatherers under his authority; he was among the elite. To go to a party at Zacchaeus’ house would be like going to Warren Buffet’s house. Z was the big man to know.
He made sacrifices to become a big man: It meant alienating his fellow Jews by not only collecting their taxes to Rome (Jews did not like Rome) but also lining his own pockets by over-taxing them. His line of work meant turning his back on his community, his family, and his religion.
*BUT if you asked Zacchaeus, he would probably claim that it was worth it.
All of us want to feel OK about ourselves—and we all have our own ways of going after: the approval of others; success in our job; financial security; a great family. I think Zacchaeus wanted the same things that we want.
*WE’RE ALL TRYING TO MEASURE UP IN SOME WAY: Zacchaeus got pretty good at it.
By today’s definition of success and happiness, Zacchaeus had everything he could ever want.
SO WHY WOULD A GUY LIKE THAT CLIMB A TREE
You see…Grown men don’t climb trees—not today, and especially not in ancient Palestine (shame based culture—you did not do anything to lose face or respect) Men were expected to act in a dignified manner
For a man to even RUN was to disgrace his family
(which is what the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal did—to run to his son he had to lift up his robe — the father doing it was DISGRACFUL) Can you imagine how big of a taboo it would be to climb a TREE while in a robe?)
Zacchaeus was EXPOSING HIMSELF: Talk about a sure-fire way to invite public ridicule and rejection. Which is very strange.
Here’s a guy who has spent his whole life making a name for himself. He worked hard, he made sacrifices. He was even willing to turn his back on his culture/religion/family to build this life for himself.
*And NOW, up in that tree, this guy is the laughing stock of Jericho.
WHY? This act appears to go against everything that he built his life around. Why would Zacchaeus give it all up just to get a better view of this popular rabbi?
It seems to me that one day, Zacchaeus looked at his life and realized that even with all his success and all his wealth and all the right social circles—even after he achieved all the things that were supposed to make him feel like a big man; He still felt SMALL and worthless.
Zacchaeus finally came to his senses and realized that the job and the wealth wasn’t meeting his true desire like he thought it would,
And he reached a point where he was so hungry for whatever he was looking for that he didn’t give a rip anymore what people thought of him. He was so hungry for that one thing, he was ready to give up everything else.
THAT’S what drove him out on that tree limb—to see Jesus.
(I’m sure that the rumors came to Jericho long before Jesus himself did—the gospel writer Luke describes amazing things in the pages prior to chapter 19: the wonders of Jesus’ miracles, the power of his teaching; but more than anything else, was this unique love. In other towns, before coming to Jericho, Jesus had told stories about lost coins, lost sheep, lost sons—to describe a God whose love was so great that He would seek people out and welcome them home—no matter how broken and unlovable they appeared.
I’m sure that these stories reached the ear of Zacchaeus and captured his imagination and his hope—Zacchaeus had to get a look at this great rabbi, even at the cost of his reputation, because Zacchaeus was convinced that in Jesus he would find:
-all the acceptance, and worth and love that he had spent his life looking for in all the wrong places.
He finds it up in that tree.
When Zacchaeus is hanging from that branch, exposed to the crowd, his ears stinging from their insults and laughter, he is no longer the distinguished businessman and sought-after socialite—THE CROWD HAS TURNED ON HIM. EVERYBODY—EXCEPT FOR JESUS.
And Jesus then does the most extraordinary thing.
HE CALLS OUT TO ZACCHAEUS BY NAME, and insists that he share a meal with Zacchaeus in HIS home (In those days, this was an act of intimate friendship-Jesus was saying, “that man is with me”)
Talk about miracles
When Zacchaeus is at his LOWEST (scorned and humiliated), Jesus reaches out in acceptance.
What he receives from Jesus is the thing that he had been hungering for, searching for, his entire life.
IN THE CHURCH, WE HAVE A WORD FOR THAT: GRACE.
The great seminary professor Lew Smedes says this about grace: “Guilt was not my problem as I felt it. What I felt most was a glob of unworthiness that I could not tie down to any concrete sins that I was guilty of. What I needed more than pardon was a sense that God accepted me, owned me, held me, affirmed me, and would never let go of me even if He was not too much impressed with what he had on his hands.
I wonder if that’s what we’re really looking for—maybe that’s what’s at the heart of all the energy we put into our careers and activities and seeking after approval and success and all that other stuff that never works until we discover GRACE.
Here is a good definition for the grace that Jesus gives to us:
Through Jesus, God looks at you with a deep sense of love, value, and commitment. What you do cannot earn it.
More important, what you do cannot take it away.
*Your journey has probably been different from my journey,
but if your are a flesh and blood human being, then you likely have places
inside where you feel that glob of unworthiness.
-Maybe you’ve worked pretty hard to compensate for it and hide it.
*The encounter with Zacchaeus tells us something very important about who Jesus is: Jesus sees who you are-even the places you try so hard to hide-and he doesn’t turn away. He embraces you.
*Our God is a God of GRACE: His love, acceptance, blessing is all FREELY given to you. BUT it is not free.
A price is paid for us to receive grace…but the price is not paid by US.
For Jesus to offer grace to Zacchaeus cost him something.
Remember, Zacchaeus was a sinner-unclean. By choosing to eat with Zacchaeus, Jesus would be declared unclean as well. The choice that brought grace and acceptance to Zacchaeus brought ridicule and disgrace to JESUS.
This was a price that Jesus was willing to pay.
Much like the price that he would later pay by dying on the cross
..so that YOU would know grace.
This grace and love that Jesus has for you is not some vague, ambiguous “oh, he loves everybody a little bit.” Kind of love
NO. Jesus DID something-to seek you out, and touch your life with grace.
Through Jesus, God looks at you with a deep sense of love, value, and commitment. What you do cannot earn it. More important, what you do cannot take it away.