He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’
The URC isn’t the type of church that dwells overly on sin – though I suspect some of our forebears were more exercised by personal sin than many contemporary Christians are. Some of those who have gone before us would have grumbled if the minister was seen going to a house of a notorious sinner so we shouldn’t be too harsh on those in today’s passage.
Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus changed his life. This was not only a spiritual experience but a conversion that cost him dear – he gave half his possessions to the poor and paid back four times what he had gained through fraud. Zacchaeus’ radical repentance is a response to Jesus’ radical refusal to judge.
I wonder what the contemporary equivalent would be. This is more than being radically inclusive, more than singing “All are welcome” more than congratulating ourselves on how progressive we are. Jesus took the risk by going from what was comfortable to what was provocative. He went to Zacchaeus – the chief tax collector of the hated Roman occupiers. Jesus took the risk of being seen with a collaborator and that risk paid off. What risks are we prepared to take in our lives for the sake of the Kingdom?
Lord Jesus, friend of prostitutes and tax collectors, irritant of the holy, curse of the self righteous, bless us with your courage, drive us out to unlikely places and uncouth people that we may be heralds of your Gospel. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is a minister in the Synod of Scotland’s Southside Cluster serving churches in Barrhead, Shawlands and Stewarton.
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