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March 21, 2010
Luke 19:1-10 (1)

Lent IV

Rev. Lauren J. McFeaters

“Deep Calls to Deep"(2)

The first thing that comes to mind on hearing this story is the song; the ditty. Zacchaeus is a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see… That’s one of the polite ways to portray him.

The years have not been kind to Zacchaeus. He’s repeatedly portrayed as the comic scoundrel perched like a bird in a tree as the parade goes by. He’s a no-good rascal like Rumpelstiltskin planning a swindle. He’s a clown picking a pocket, scurrying up a tree to stay out of sight. If we were to cast him in a movie we’d give the part to Danny DeVito on a bad day.
He also has a malevolent reputation. It’s so easy to turn Zacchaeus into the Tony Soprano of Jericho, the Godfather of taxes. He’s known as a filthy-rich parasite and a rich heartless fool a traitor to his own people and doomed to be sent empty away; a con who could no more enter the Kingdom of heaven than a camel through the eye of a needle.
However we do Zacchaeus a disservice when we turn him into a caricature. He’s a man flesh and blood; a powerful man; a man who wields authority and influence. He’s the Chief Financial Officer of Jericho’s tax system; a senior executive of the Roman government and quite possibly he has dozens of tax managers and accountants working for him. He sends a portion of his tax collections to Rome and anything else he keeps for himself. (3)  

We should recoil. We want to shrink back, but Luke won't let us; because when we peel away all the assumptions and suppositions what we find is a story of salvation; a story of healing.

If we take away the caricature and the comic sketch and the distortions we find that Zacchaeus is unwell. He is ceremonially unclean and no longer able to worship in the Temple. He’s socially ostracized and politically treasonous. He’s an employee of the Empire and is paid to rob and crush other people – his own people (4) Zacchaeus is unwell. He’s community sick. He’s lost. No one can treat others with so little disregard and still be whole. No one can batter others in their poverty and still be intact. He lives a broken, one-dimensional life, a disgrace to his God and a pariah to his people. He is so spirit-poor he lives as an outcast among your own people, with no one to call a friend…no worship life…no social ties except to pilfer and embezzle. It had to be a desperately lonely existence.

One preacher puts it this way, loneliness is the curse of our age. Isolation is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people. For people who will go deep with each other.

The Psalmist says:

 My soul is cast down within me.
In isolation I remember you
from the land of Jordan.
Deep calls to deep O God
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands steadfast love,
and at night the Lord’s song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

Deep calls to deep O God.

God’s deep calls to our deep so that somewhere in the cavernous chambers of our lives we might know salvation – a healing for a deeper, fuller living. (5) 

Deep calls to deep because somehow Zacchaeus rustles up a tree, and somehow he knows his salvation is near. He looks through the branches and into the eyes of tenderness; the eyes of such love that he is staggered.

Zacchaeus come down,
becomes more than a summons. Jesus breaks through the caricature. He doesn’t see the wee little man. He sees the desperation and a man about to be reconciled to his community.

Zacchaeus doesn’t see himself in the same way either.
Hurry and come down.
I must stay at your house today,”

becomes more than a friendly invitation.

  • It’s more than a fine meal followed by lemon meringue pie.
  • It’s more than Zacchaeus’ happily ever after.
  • It’s a healing so that side by side, the crook and the Christ walk home.

Somewhere in the movement from a tree to a table Zacchaeus is handed the gospel gift of health.
He can taste it. It’s on his lips; his tongue. It is not the chalky, bitter pill he tastes, but a savory Lenten dinner, a Kingdom pot-luck generous as hospitality, joyous as a new adventure and ending in communion.
Somewhere in the movement from a tree to a table Zacchaeus is handed the gospel gift of his name. A name in Greek that sounds like Zacchaeus and in Hebrew means pure, righteous, innocent, clean.
At some point during the feast Zacchaeus rises – un-coerced, un-admonished –he repents and justice rolls down like waters from the feast of Jesus, acceptance, and it flows in the sharing of wealth and the making of reparations to the defrauded.(6) The entire community becomes well. Sickness of isolation becomes communal health and wholeness.
In the community of Jesus Christ, repentance is not solely a transaction of the heart. Genuine repentance bears fruit. Zacchaeus’ openhearted giving becomes the Church World Service of Jericho, the United Way, the Red Cross and the Crisis Ministry all rolled into one.

Deep calls to deep.

Jesus calls to an unhealthy man comes down from his tree by faith and stands up for the works of justice.
Howard Thurman says it this way: the healing comes for Zacchaeus when Jesus sets a crown over his head.
A crown Zacchaeus will spend the rest of his life gladly growing tall enough to wear.(7)

Jesus’ visit to Zacchaeus
is not a diversion or detour on his journey to Jerusalem.
It is the purpose of his journey.
He comes to seek out and save the lost, saying
I’m going to your house today.
I’m going to your house today.

Thanks be to God.




(1) Luke 19:1-10 NRSV: He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 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 sycamore 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.”

(2) Psalm 42:4-8 NRSV
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

(3) Paul D. Duke. “A Festive Repentance - Luke 19:1-10.” Christian Century. Chicago, IL: Christian Century Foundation, October 18, 1995.

(4) Fred B. Craddock. Luke. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990 220.

(5) Richard J. Foster. Celebration of Discipline:  The Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco:  Harper and Row, 1998 1.

(6) Paul D. Duke.

(7) Paul D. Duke.




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