25 January 2015
What was it that made Zacchaeus abandon all his dignity and shimmy up a tree like a ten year old boy? Remember, he was a man of status—not just a tax collector, but a chief tax collector. He was a man of means—Luke tells us he was very rich.
But all his status, and all his wealth, had left him a very lonely man. The other Jews hated him, because he fleeced them for the Romans. The Romans didn’t care for him, because he was a Jew. He had things. He may even have had people…but even then he wondered if they loved him or his money.
This past week, I was tempted to buy a lottery ticket. The jackpot is up to some $220 million the last I noticed. We all think, don’t we, that life would go so much better if only we had a little more, and a little more. Money means power to do what we want. If we had more money, we could do good things for people we love, support causes we care about, and maybe even do something for ourselves.
But if power and wealth were the point of life, Zacchaeus would have stayed on the ground. People who are full, don’t go to restaurants. People who are warm don’t turn up the thermostat. And people whose lives are going well don’t abandon their dignity and shimmy up trees.
The simple truth is this: having wealth cuts us off from other people and from God. There’s a reason that wealthy communities are gated communities. What is ours needs to be protected. So we cut ourselves off from others. And since God is found in the poor, when we cut ourselves off from them, we cut ourselves off from him.
Zacchaeus’ life was missing something—or rather, someone. And that is why he climbed the tree: he wanted to see who Jesus was.
For Christ himself was walking that way. And why was he walking that way? He himself tells us: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” That means Zacchaeus…and that means you and me, too.
Consider Jesus Christ. From all eternity he lives in communion with the Father and the Spirit. Even when he took on flesh, he existed in the form of God. Comparing this wealth to human wealth is like comparing the sun to a sputtering match.
But Christ did not think it robbery to be equal to God. He hid his splendor. He emptied himself and took on the form of a slave, and was found in fashion as a man. In other words, he took all the riches of his deity and gave them freely for us. St. Paul told the Corinthians, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
He came to seek Zacchaeus. And so he stops beneath the tree and calls Zacchaeus down. “I must stay at your house today,” he tells him. He gives his richest gift—his personal presence—into the hand of this lonely man. Christ uses his wealth to make friends, by giving it away.
No wonder, then, that Zacchaeus gives away his wealth, and embraces a life of poverty! What, after all, is a sputtering match compared to the full warmth of the sun? Now Zacchaeus used his wealth to make friends. And how? He gave it away. By that act, Zacchaeus is restored to the community of faith. “He, too, is a child of Abraham,” Christ says.
Still today Christ seeks and saves the lost. He stops here this morning and invites himself as guest and host at our table. He feeds us with the richest of fare, his own life-giving body and blood. Let us, then, like Zacchaeus, loose our grip on things, so that we might cling to Christ. Let us learn to make friends for ourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when it fails they may receive us…