Unraveled: Jesus Looked Up

Psalm 119:137-144 Unraveled: Jesus Looked Up 7/18/2021

Luke 19:1-10 Rev. Mark Allio 8th Sunday after Pentecost

 

 

Psalm 119:137-144

137 You are righteous, O Lord,
and your judgments are right.
138 You have appointed your decrees in righteousness
and in all faithfulness.
139 My zeal consumes me
because my foes forget your words.
140 Your promise is well tried,
and your servant loves it.
141 I am small and despised,
yet I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,
and your law is the truth.
143 Trouble and anguish have come upon me,
but your commandments are my delight.
144 Your decrees are righteous forever;
give me understanding that I may live.

 

Luke 19:1-10 CEB

19 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.”

 

This is the Word of the Lord...

 

I have a very important theological declaration that needs to be made: Our God is a god of parties; and not just parties, but celebrations, feasts (and fests), jamborees, and even shindigs. And really, they’re important to us too. So many major events in our life are accompanied by parties: Baby showers, Graduation Parties, Bridal Showers, Bachelor and Bachelorette parties, Wedding Receptions, Retirement Parties, even Funerals. And of course, 150th celebrations as well. And we even sprinkle the in-between times with anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays. And after last Sunday I think we can all agree that celebrations are important.

 

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God arranges the fasts, feasts, and festivals of Israel and then God tells them they must ‘keep’ them. God commands them to party, and it would be a sin not to.

 

In fact, the root of the Hebrew word for celebrate ‘halal’ is the same as praise as in “hallelujah.” It means to shine, to boast, to show, to rave, and be clamorously foolish. I’m not 100% sure on the validity of the last one.

 

Then in the New Testament, Jesus comes along, and he’s accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, who is always hanging out with the ‘bad crowd.’ Throughout the gospels it seems that wherever Jesus went there was a parade and he was the grand marshal. People yearned to be around Jesus. They would invite him to stay with them and it would have been a grand feast.

 

Zacchaeus was part of that bad crowd that Jesus kept getting in trouble over or at least that’s what everyone thought. The story of Zacchaeus is a favorite of everyone. We all know the song.

 

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

And when the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree
And said, 'Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I'm going to your house today!
For I'm going to your house today!'

 

However, the song doesn’t tell the whole story. What happens next? Jesus goes to Zach’s house and on the way, people begin to grumble. The people complain about Jesus hanging out with a sinner. And normally we think that Zacchaeus is then and there converted as he promises to give half of his money away to the poor and to repay anyone he cheated four times the amount. But this doesn’t have the same feel as any of the other conversion stories we find in the gospels. This is different. It seems like something else is going on.

 

But here is what’s interesting: the translation for this story is heavily debated among scholars. The Greek verb tense that Zacchaeus uses can mean either future tense “I will…”, like how we normally understand the story, or it can be translated as a reoccurring event, “I have always…” or as how our reading translated it.

 

Zach says, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.”

You see, perhaps throughout the centuries we fell into the same mistake as those that grumbled in the story. We thought we knew what and who Zacchaeus was, but it turns out we didn’t have a clue. Even the people in the city had no idea. They saw Zacchaeus as a chief tax collector and assumed they knew the kind of person he was.

 

Jesus ends the passage declaring, “The Human One came to seek and save the lost.” But Zacchaeus isn’t the lost in this story. It’s the grumblers. It’s the older brother refusing to go into the party for his prodigal brother. It’s the party poopers. It’s the Scrooges.

 

I know it’s not Christmas, but we are close to Christmas in July so think of this as summer Advent. But, in a Christmas Carol, Scrooge is invited to have Christmas dinner with his nephew but Scrooge refuses. Scrooge sees all the celebration as a waste of money and declares his famous, “Humbug.” But by Christmas morning his tune as changed as he begins to share his wealth left and right: giving to the needy, his employees, those he meets on the street, and of course the Cratchit family.

 

The one thing about celebrations is that celebrations are fundamentally generous. When you celebrate, you tell something or someone that they have value - that they matter. This is the highest form of generosity.

 

In the poem, Behind Each Door, Martin Wallace writes:

 

As you and I walk down this terraced street
Where all the houses seem to be from a common mould
And each door looks the same,
It would be easy to be mistaken
And assume that those inside each house
Are from a common mold.
You and I know, Lord,
That each household has a different story
Of happiness, heartache, and health,

 

wealth, weariness, and worry,
sadness, solitude, and sickness,
energy, encouragement, and excitement.

 

I see pictures of biblical villages,
With square white houses all the same,
When the same assumption could be made.
Yet you cut through all of that
And treated everyone differently:

 

‘Follow …’;

‘Return …’;

‘Give away …’;
‘Be reborn …’;

‘Tell everyone …’;

‘Keep silent …’.

 

Keep me alive, Lord,
To the special uniqueness
Behind each door.[i]

 

People saw Zacchaeus the tax collector and treated him as such. Jesus looked up and saw a son of Abraham, a Hebrew, someone loved by God and stopping to celebrate with Zacchaeus, showed Zacchaeus that he was valued and that he mattered. Even though the entire town hated and resented him. Jesus was starting the healing process between Zach and the town. And everyone learns that actually, Zacchaeus was generous.

 

There are many ways we can be generous. We can do things for other people, we can give things, we can give time, we can give a bit of ourselves - we all have so much to give. But the widespread truth about generosity is that it is not about the gift - it is about what the gift says. The gift says, ‘you matter’. The gift says, ‘you’re worth it’. The gift says, ‘you are loved’.

 

So, we grab coffee for a coworker.

We smile at the person at the checkout counter.

We take our neighbors trash bins up from the curb.

 

Flood your life with celebration and you will grow in generosity without even trying.

 

 

All of people we meet or see or cross paths with throughout our day have a life that we don’t see and that we don’t know. There are differences in life experiences and goals. We don’t their joys or struggles or victories. But we know that God sees them. We know that God loves them. And that is enough.

 

So, be generous with kindness. Be generous with patience. Be generous with love. Be generous with joy. Be generous with peace. Be generous with goodness. Be generous with gentleness.

 

It is easy for us to become hoarders, afraid to lose things, afraid to miss things. But one thing we discover is that the more we give, the more we have. We begin to see with new eyes what we truly have. We begin to see what truly matters.

 

We become what we celebrate.

 

Recognize people and their value, and you will a become a person worthy of celebration yourself. Just as Jesus intended to pass through Jericho but upon looking up and seeing Zacchaeus and valuing him, Jesus changed his plans. Jesus changed his plans for a celebration.

 

And so let us continue to celebrate the church...to celebrate you.

 

I am grateful for you. There are others in these pews that are grateful for you. And I know that God is grateful for you.

 

Know that this is a place where you are seen. Know that this is a place where you are loved.

 

And that’s worth celebrating.

 

Let us pray:

 

No special qualifications needed;

No particular connections or exclusive memberships required;

No secret passwords or unique attributes expected;

No campaigning or canvassing,

no examinations or reference checks;

 

Just an amazing invitation to a feast;

to find our place at Your table,

alongside these other unworthy ones,

these other beloved ones;

these others humble enough to accept the invitation

without asking who else will be there.

 

Well, Jesus, Lord of the Feast,

with thankful and open hearts,

we accept Your amazing invitation to celebrate.

And we continue to extend that invitation to all we meet.

In Jesus name, Amen.

 

 

[i] Wallace, Martin, City Prayers, Canterbury Press, 1994.

 
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