Luke 19: 1-10
1He/Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he/Jesus was going to pass that way. 5When 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.” 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8Zacchaeus 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.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Friends, it wasn’t a mistake that this story happened in Jericho. Stuff like this always happened in Jericho, or on the Jericho Road. Remember the Good Samaritan? Same location. The Jericho Road, yeah, that seventeen-mile stretch of road between Jericho and Jerusalem during Jesus’ time where anything could and did happen, especially the bad stuff. Jericho, not a good place. Thieves. “Business people.”
The innocent. The guilty. The dead and the half-dead. Sex workers and their pimps. And yes, an assortment of priests and Levites. Let’s not forget the Samaritans. God bless the Samaritans, at least that one. Oh, did I mention tax collectors?
Nevertheless, you had to travel the Jericho Road if you lived in a village along it; or, if you wanted to get to Jerusalem. Jerusalem! Now there was the place. That’s where you wanted to be. It had it’s share of troubles, but at least you had a better chance of finding the help you needed, not getting accosted, not getting fleeced. Seeing something
different, becoming something different. And that’s what happened to Zacchaeus…on the Jericho Road.
He didn’t become the chief tax collector by being a shrinking violet. Zacchaeus, he probably started off poor like any other Palestinian Jew of his day. He had a family that he had to take care of. And over time, the opportunity to be a tax collector and move up the ladder just…presented itself to him. A “deal” one he just couldn’t refuse. One he didn’t want to refuse because of what it would mean for his family, his reputation. No more groveling, no more hand to mouth/paycheck-to-paycheck. The people of Jericho would look up to him, and see what a big man he had become. They had to answer to him now. Not “Zacchaeus, but, Mr. Zacchaeus! He knew that the people of Jericho and the nearby towns didn’t like him. He knew what they called him: sellout, traitor, conspirator, robber. Sinner! Yes, he was all those things. No, he wasn’t all those things. There was much much more. Whatever! “A job was a job”; at least that’s what he told himself.
When he was alone, at his desk doing his accounting, he probably scratched his head and sighed thinking about the new young rabbi. That
rabbi from Nazareth was different, not like the others. It had been a very, very long time since he went to synagogue. He wasn’t allowed to on account of his job with the Romans. But, several times he had heard Jesus speaking. He was in the streets more often during the week than in the synagogue; going here and there, talking to people, making some pretty bold statements. Jesus was in the streets, along the Jericho road where anything could happen. Same texts, but Jesus talked about them in a way that was different from the other rabbis. The way Jesus talked there seemed to be room in God’s house for people – people like him; room for the poor who were innocent, and room for the rich who were guilty. So, when Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was coming to Jericho, that’s when he knew he had to do something. He had to make a decision. That’s when he decided to make his decision. Throw caution to the wind. Expose himself to ridicule and above all make himself look like an idiot as opposed to remain as the self-assured insider that his profession and government connections afforded him. Get to Jesus and make a connection. So he runs ahead of the others, climbs up the tree, and concurs with Jesus that he should take him to his home for a meal and conversation. He climbs down the tree when Jesus comes and before too long the words are running out of his mouth, telling what he has already done, what he will do, what he was going to give. He probably surprised himself. It probably sounded like gibberish to everyone else who was listening. I am persuaded that often our prayers are no more than gibberish as we pour out our hearts to Jesus. The people around him thought he was a joke, and that Jesus was a joke for going to his house. But, as they say, “There’s no time like the present.” And every decision has its day.
There are many Jericho Roads. They are everywhere. And we will necessarily go down a handful of them in our lifetime. There’s no
getting around it. And there’s a Jericho Road and a Jericho with your name on it; a road where you will have to make a decision, or reconfirm a decision you’ve made. A decision to be, or not to be. A decision to stand and be exposed for what that decision entails. A decision to be Christian – with all of its baggage and all of its blessing. A decision to be a part of something bigger than us.
There is a Jericho Road that we have to go down. A decision to make as we travel it. And there is sycamore tree for all of us to climb that will signal to others that we have aligned ourselves with something and someone bigger than us. A cause bigger than our plans for ourselves, our particular church; bigger than what politicians, scientists, and average geniuses like you and me can discern for this world. But that’s just the initial decision. The decision to be a follow of the God of Jesus of Nazareth…to do the work of the Spirit of God inspired is a decision we have to reaffirm and recommit to everyday. We have to recommit. Our experience on the Jericho road can change us, to make us turn away from the outside and turn to the one who can help us. The actions on the Jericho road can change our hearts. The goings-on on the Jericho Road can lead us to change our mind, “re-evaluate” our decision, leave off the decision we’ve made because, because, because.
Jesus calls to us over the serenity as well as the tumult of our lives just as he called out to Zacchaeus. “Hurry and come down. I need to come to your house and share with you what God had planted in my heart.” Jesus and Luke tell us that we, no matter who we are or what we have done, are called to come down and be with Jesus. Friends, let’s come down from wherever we are in our hearts and minds that would keep us from going up our sycamore trees in the first place to see what Jesus has to say…has for us to be and do, because we, too, are children of Abraham, “pure ones” like Zacchaeus. Beloved of God.
You may remember this song from your Sunday School days; its still good. Sing it with me if you know it.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back. No turning back.
The next to the last verse says,
The world behind me the cross before me,
no turning back.
And then there’s another verse:
Though none go with me. Still I will follow.
Though none go with me, still I will follow.
Though none go with me, still I will follow.
No turning back; no turning back.
Let that be your heart’s prayer each day, even not as we make our
way to this table which has been prepared to support our decision to follow in the way of Jesus of Nazareth…one more day.