Those not able to attend our Sunday worship may find comfort and inspiration from the wordsshared with the congregation by the preacher. The next in this occasional series is by our ownminister, the Rev Nik Wooller, delivered during the service on Sunday 3 November 2013. The crowd surged toward the road, pushing and shoving to get a better look at the man called Jesus.
The city was Jericho and it was wall to wall people, each one of them eager to get a look at theyoung carpenter from Nazareth who everyone was talking about. As far as we know it was his firsttime to this historic city but obviously his reputation had preceded him. The people had come out innumbers to see this man who had made the lame walk and the blind see; to see the one who couldspeak and make the winds die down; who could command and see the demons flee. He had evenconfronted the religious leaders and the lawyers when he felt they were treating people wrongly.
particularly the very poor and the sick…particularly those people that no-one else wanted anythingto do with. Now Jericho was no stranger to the holy and the awesome. It was at Jericho that Rahabthe harlot hid the spies of Israel; it was at Jericho where Joshua was commanded to take off hissandals because he was standing on holy ground; it was Jericho where the people of Israel marchedaround seven times and when they shouted to God and blew their trumpets; it was Jericho thatcame crashing down; it was while going into Jericho that Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus; and it wason the road from Jerusalem to Jericho that the good Samaritan came upon the unfortunate travellerwho had been robbed and left for dead. It was a rich city, referred to some as the city of palms,while the Jewish historian Josephus called it 'a divine region'. Jericho had the largest tax base of any city in Palestine. It was the perfect place for a corrupt littletax collector to live . a corrupt little chief tax collector named Zacchaeus to be exact. He was oneof the most influential Jews in the Roman tax-collecting business, and he had become very rich. andwe need to recognise the fact that Zach wasn’t everybody’s favourite person. As a matter of factZach wasn’t anybody’s favourite person, probably not even his mother’s. That may seem more thena little unfair, but Zacchaeus was a tax collector and Jericho was a city of great wealth, and it wasfrom the wealth and the poverty of the people of Jericho that Zacchaeus amassed his own personalfortune. You have to remember that Palestine was an occupied country under Roman rule. Even ifthe tax collectors weren’t dishonest they were serving under the Romans and were thereforeconsidered both renegades and traitors by their country men. Tax concessions were like franchises.
The Roman’s assessed the area and what they felt the tax should be, and then sold the right tocollect those taxes to the highest bidder. Anything collected over and above the Roman estimatewas his cut. If you think that our tax burden is high let me tell you that there were four distinct andseparate taxes levied in Palestine at that time. First was the stated tax paid by every man between 14and 65 and every woman between 12 to 65. That was a flat rate you paid simply for the privilege ofbeing alive. The second was the tax paid on the ground you lived on regardless of whether youowned, rented or borrowed it. The third levy was income tax, and I’m sure I don’t have to explainthat to you. The last tax was something which they called duties and it basically taxed everythingthat hadn’t been taxed up to that point. It paid for the use of roads, harbours, markets etc. Forexample there was a tax levied on a cart based on a set fee for each wheel as well as for the numberand types of animals which pulled it. In duties there were purchase taxes and import taxes andexport taxes. A tax collector could stop you on the road make you unpack your load and then chargeyou tax on what you were carrying in your bundles. The rabbis spoke of robbers, murderers and taxcollectors in the same breath. You will recall that whenever the Pharisees became critical of thecompany Jesus was keeping they always spoke of “tax collectors and sinners” at the same time.
That was part of the reason that tax collectors were barred from the temple. And Zacchaeus wasn’t just any tax collector he was the chief tax collector. In every sense of theword he was the man everybody loved to hate. Today Zach had a problem. Somewhere, somehowthis tax collector had stumbled onto news about Jesus of Nazareth, a godly teacher who associatedwith sinners and tax collectors. What type of man was this. Why was he willing to be seen in the company of those whom polite society shunned? This day, people lined the streets of Jerichobecause Jesus was coming. Several had seen miracles performed. Many had heard him speak.
Throughout the crowd there was an excited buzz about the approaching Jesus. People just couldn’twait to catch a glimpse of him, and they crowded together, pushing against one another, clamouringto see him, the crowd surging forward toward the roadway to catch a glimpse of the one whisperedto be the messiah. And so Zaccheaus joins in the attempt to view the carpenter from Nazareth. He has heard thestories about Jesus too, He now wonders if those stories are true . stories of people's lives beingtransformed, particularly those who were just like him, the tax collectors, thieves and sinners.
Jesus had a reputation for associating with these people and Zach must have wondered if Jesuswould have anything to do with him I can just see Zacchaeus’ isolation and desperation driving his curiosity. He has to check the 'Jesusthing' out. He must find out if what he hears is really true, if there is one person in the world whowill accept him as he is, for himself. And I’m sure that as Zach tries to get though the crowd thatpeople begin to recognise who he was and begin to push him this way and shove him that way. Andeven as they struggle to see the prince of peace they take the opportunity to vent their frustration onpoor old Zach. You see Zacchaeus has a major handicap, he is short. Not that being short isnecessarily a handicap, unless of course you are standing on the footpath trying to watch a parade.
Now to be truthful we don’t know how short he was, but it must have been short enough for Luke tofeel he should mention it. Everyone of us has a handicap of some sort that can keep us from seeingJesus. Zacchaeus decides that if he is going to overcome his handicap he will have to take mattersinto his own hands. So we are told in Luke chapter 19 verse 4 that he runs ahead and climbs asycamore tree beside the road, so he could watch from there. You see Zacchaeus, right there andthen, becomes a risk taker. I love this picture, Here’s little Zacchaeus gathering all his robes – and probably very nice robes, remembering howrich he is – gathering all his robes up and racing madly down the street. So he gets down the streetbut still can’t see Jesus. He does see the crowd surging toward him and he suddenly realises that itdon’t matter how fast he runs that when the crowd gets there he’s still going be too short to see overthem. Off to one side he spots a sycamore tree and he rushes over, lifts his robes and starts toshimmy up this skinny little tree. Ladies and gentlemen, pause if you will and try to imagineyourself climbing a tree in an evening gown. Quite an image isn’t it. That's what Zacchaeus has todo in his robes. You see in order to overcome his handicap, Zacchaeus has first to overcome hispride. I’m sure if Zacchaeus had any friends at all they would have said: “you can’t do that, Zach.
What will people think?” . “What will people say if you fall out of the tree?” . “This Jesus fellowis going to think you’re a nut-case”. As luck has it though Zacchaeus either doesn’t have anyfriends, or there just aren’t any around. But then a most amazing thing happens. Just then, far off down the road, the noise in the crowd gets louder, Jesus must finally be coming.
The crowd is looking expectantly down the road, looking for Jesus as he makes his way towardsthem. People cry out his name and clamour around him trying to touch him. Excitement bubblesthrough the crowd. And as Jesus makes his way through Jericho, he sees a most peculiar sight.
There in all his dignity the chief tax collector of Jericho is up in a tree watching. Zacchaeus mustthen begin to realize that Jesus is making his way right towards him. As Jesus reaches the foot of thesycamore tree he looks up at Zacchaeus and calls him by name: “ Zacchaeus! Come down! For Imust be a guest in your home today.” Because Zacchaeus is willing to break with tradition and goagainst the flow, something wonderful has happened. Jesus comes to his house for lunch. It's true. Jesus does eat and hang out with sinners and people who no-one else likes. When Jesus calls people he challenges them out of mediocrity and into risk taking. If the twelveapostles hadn’t been willing to take a risk then the gospel wouldn’t have spread through out the holy land, and if Paul hadn’t been ready to take a risk then the gentiles would never have heard thegospel. If Zacchaeus hadn’t been willing to take a risk he would never have met Jesus. The chief tax collector, one of the most hated men in Jericho had opened his heart to Jesus One ofthe hardest steps in finding the saviour is admitting that you need saving, but in fact every one of ushas as much need of Jesus as Zacchaeus did. When Zacchaeus took Jesus home with him histransformation began. Meeting Jesus transformed him and transformed the way he interacted withother people. He became a very generous person, a person with integrity. Where once Zacchaeushad been a despised outsider, Jesus gave him back his worth and his dignity. Jesus put it this way:“Today salvation has come to this house.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord: “I will givehalf my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have overcharged people on their taxes, I will give themback four times as much!” Not only was Zach a saved man he was a changed man as well. Wealth was everything to Zach and he gave half of it away to the poor, and then he used the otherhalf to right any wrongs. He told people: “If I have cheated you out of £100 then I will repay you£400.” Zacchaeus was a changed man because his priorities had changed. We should all pray that the transformative power of Jesus that can change the life of one taxcollector, a sinner and outcast, into a person with restored hope and a vision for the future, will bediscovered here by each and every one of us. There is a place for each and every one of us in God’sKingdom and the transformative power of Jesus can work in each of our lives just as it did forZacchaeus. The story of Zacchaeus reminds us that there is always someone in the sycamore tree, hoping andpraying not to be an outsider any more, hoping to find meaning and purpose in life. Zacchaeus'story reminds us that our job is to be looking for those individuals. As Christ’s disciples we arecalled to invite them to find a home here among us as brothers and sisters in Christ.


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