Jesus touches the untouchable. The leper and the unclean, Jesus touches them. Jesus loves the unlovable, the tax collector and the prostitute. Jesus includes the excluded, the Samaritan and the prostitute. Jesus welcomes the banished, the prodigal and the scapegoat.
Zacchaeus has a role to play in Jericho. He has a role to play in their religious framework. They do it unconsciously, the crowd. They don’t know what they are doing, this is what Jesus prays from the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 ESV. They don’t know what they are doing, but they need Zacchaeus, because they’re whole religious system needs a scapegoat.
The word religion, in its origin, means “to bind together.” It’s what gives us cohesion and binds us together in culture and religious similarity. But from the dawn of religion, it works like this – we’re all afraid. We’re all afraid that we won’t belong, we’re all afraid that we’ll be the outcast. We’re all afraid that we don’t measure up. We’re all haunted by this lurking fear that we’re not good enough. So what we do collectively, and largely unconsciously, is we take that fear and insecurity and we project it on someone that we have determined is really bad…
So we see one like Zacchaeus, chief tax collector, chief of sinners. What we are saying is I don’t know if I’m good enough, but I’m not as bad as that one!! We all agree that we can be included, because we’re not as bad as that one!!! This is really the origin of religion. Throughout the world, that’s primarily how religion works. It’s very sophisticated, it can be done in much more elaborate ways, in fact that’s where sacrifice comes from.
The only problem is Jesus comes along and will not play the game!!! You can get the feeling they all want to take Jesus aside and say “Don’t you know how this works? The only reason we feel good and secure is because we are able to take our fear and insecurity and project it on someone ekse. But you go and keep having lunch with those guys! It’s messing up our who system.” To which Jesus says ‘Yeah, Pretty much…”
This is the radical hospitable of Jesus that Luke desperately wants us to see. It’s why Luke shows Jesus going from table to table, from meal to meal, eating and drinking with all the wrong people, as if Jesus is constantly saying to those who have been excluded “You belong here. I know you’ve been told that you don’t belong. That you are forbidden, that you cannot come here. But I am saying that you belong here, you tax collector, you sinner, you prostitute, you leper, you unclean, I say you belong here.” Some of us may applaud Jesus for that, but not everyone did. Jesus practiced a boundary pushing, kosher-challenging, line crossing, Pharisee infuriating radical hospitality. The question is, do we?
If we’re not careful, what we like to do is draw the lines, put up the velvet rope, and make sure it’s very clear who’s in and who’s out. We do this lest we be found guilty of going soft on sin. Can’t be seen as soft on sin, can we? Gotta draw the lines, put up the ropes, put up the barriers, because we don’t want to go soft on sin…
But does it work? Does this exclusionary practice actually produce holy people. Or is this more of the real story? – In general, aren’t we just as filled with lust, just as greedy, just as angry, just as self centered, just as broken, just as addicted, but we have with it the added pressure of keeping it hidden. At least in the bar you can say “I’m really messed up. I’m probably an alcoholic. I’m cheating on my wife. I’m really a bad sinner.” And they will put their arm around you and say “Well, you know, maybe things will get better..”
But you can’t do that in church, because you will be then excluded. So maybe our exclusionary practice has served only to make us very competent in the practice of hypocrisy. It doesn’t produce holiness, it just teaches us how to hide our problems. All the while, Jexus says this – “Just come to my table. Be honest. And don’t prevent anyone else from coming to the table.”
You can really sum it up like this. Jesus says “Come to my table. Be honest. Don’t pretend, I already know everything. I know you’re a sinner. I know who you are Zacchaeus. I know who you are Bob, Fred, Susie, Nancy, Sally, Ted. I know who you are. I know what your issues are, and I accept you. Just come to my table. But be honest about who you are. And don’t stop anyone else from coming. That’s all I ask.” I think that’s pretty close to what Jesus is asking of people.
For Jesus, salvation is radical hospitality and the redemptive consequences that come from it. For Jesus, salvation is having a seat at the table of grace and the transformation that happens there. Remember, Jesus virtually never uses the word salvation. In fact, he uses it exactly twice in all the gospels. None in Mark, none in Matthew, once in John, once in Luke.
But what Jesus does talk about is the Kingdom of God, and that’s what he talked about all the time. Over and over, Kingdom, kingdom, kingdom. Every sermon, every parable, Jesus constantly talks about the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile, the apostle Paul almost never talks about the Kingdom of God, but he talks about salvation all the time. But we must get this, Jesus and Paul are talking about the same thing. What Jesus calls the Kingdom of God, what Paul calls salvation, they are not talking about two different things.
But here’s one of those times where Jesus uses the noun salvation. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.We put up the velvet rope, we draw the lines, we engage in exclusionary practices and tactics because we’re afraid sin will run rampant. All we’re really doing is showing our own lack of faith in Jesus. We need to have a little more faith in Jesus. We need to believe that if people will encounter Jesus, something good will happen.
We like to say love the sinner, hate the sin. That way we can feel extra special pious as we lovingly point out everybody else’s sin. But where do you find Jesus telling us to hate other people’s sin? Nowhere. Jesus says hate your own sin. “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?” Matthew 7:4 ESV. Jesus says that while we’re busy worrying about someone else’s sin, we have logs in our own eyes. Jesus says to us love the sinner…always. But he says love the sinner, hate your own sin.
So Jesus says he must eat with the worst sinner in town. People said that was Zacchaeus was the worst sinner in town, Jesus says Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today. But to be with Jesus is to be changed. So Zacchaeus says Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will restore it fourfold. Zacchaeus didn’t know his Torah. The Torah only required twenty percent restitution. But Zacchaeus declares he will restore it fourfold. And Jesus jumps and says salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.This is what Jesus came to do, seek and save the lost. He came to find those on the outside, excluded, told they don’t belong, and bring them in…
Jesus finds this new commitment of Zacchaeus to economic justice and calls it salvation. It’s not that Zacchaeus earns forgiveness by what he now does with his money. Zacchaeus is saved by the radical hospitality of Jesus, by the fact that he comes to his house and shared a meal with him. But this is what salvation looks like in the life of someone like Zacchaeus. And we should see that to be with Jesus is to be transformed.
Grace is being offered a seat at the table no matter who you are or what you’ve done. Salvation is the forgiveness and transformation that happens as a result. It’s not Zacchaeus eternal destiny that needs to be saved. Jesus never says “I need to save your eternal destiny.” What needs saving is Zacchaeus. If Zacchaeus is saved, his eternal destiny will be fine.
Jesus is not wanting to save your eternal destiny, he wants to save you. Zacchaeus was a messed up man. He was malformed, misshapen, twisted up. He twisted out of shape by societies pliers, he valued money more that people. But one meal with Jesus and his transformation has begun. He says wait a minute…people are way more important than money.I’m going to give half my money to the poor and if I’ve cheated anyone I’ll give them four times as much. And Jesus says Today salvation has come to this house….Jesus says that looks like salvation to him. It looks like Zacchaeus is getting it, Zacchaeus is being transformed, he is becoming a new creation.
As surely as Jesus called Zacchaeus down from that tree by name, he calls you by name. He says “come to my table.” Eat the bread, drink from the cup. Just come. If you’re willing to come, Jesus will receive you. Be honest, don’t come to the table and pretend. Don’t come and pretend to be more righteous than you are. Jesus knows you. Come honestly about who you are. And don’t prevent anyone else from coming. Take down your barricades, take down your velvet ropes. If anyone will come, let them come to the table of the lord…
“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And 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 and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””
Luke 19:1-10 ESV