God’s call to us!

THEME: God’s Call to us!
SENTENCE: In Christ we have been given our share in the heritage, as was decreed in God’s design, whose purpose is everywhere at work. Ephesians 1: 11
COLLECT: Call us to you, Jesus, like Martha from her kitchen, like Zaccheaeus from the tree, to hear and do your will. Amen
Revelation 7:9-17
Ps 34:1-10
1 John 3:1-3 
Matthew 5:1-12

Tena koutou e whanau o Te Wairua Tapu. Well it’s our second service back at the church and although it was cold and wet, a few people showed up for karakia, which was excellent.

Our gospel reading from Luke today is the story about Zacchaeus and his encounter with Jesus. Apparently, Zacchaeus’ main claim to fame was that he was short in stature, a feature that the writer felt was important to highlight. However, the text actually says Zacchaeus “was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he couldn’t, because he was short in stature.” If you listen properly, the text doesn’t tell us which of the two men was short in stature. Most readers assume the “he” in question was Zacchaeus. But you see, Jesus also would’ve been hard to spot in the crowd if he himself, was short in stature, and surrounded by people who were taller than he was.  Of course we’ll never know which of the two the writer was referring to but that is why we must read scripture more intently. Not that it really matters but if Jesus was short then the idea of him being tall, strong, handsome and white just gets blown out of the water. Interesting aye?

Anyway, there’s plenty more meat in the Zacchaeus story for us to sink our teeth into.  Firstly, we are told that Zacchaeus was “a chief tax collector and he was rich.” Tax collectors were absolutely despised back then because of their co-operation with the oppressive Roman government.  And Zacchaeus had apparently done well for himself in this line of work. He was a chief tax collector, which means he must have been promoted at some point for co-operating well with the Romans. One bible scholar wrote, “In a corrupt system, the loftier one’s position, the greater one’s complicity in that system.” I’m sure Zacchaeus would easily fit into many government or corporate systems today.

The text further points out that Zacchaeus was rich.  Since tax collectors were generally known to line their own pockets at the expense of their neighbours, it’s interesting that the writer feels a need to point this out. Again, it seems we’re being told Zacchaeus isn’t just any run of the mill tax collector. In other words, he’s an expert at taking advantage of people for his own gain. Sound familiar? And yet, Zacchaeus is fascinated by what he’s heard about Jesus. Fascinated enough to do something a wealthy person or official wouldn’t normally do, climb up a tree so that he could catch a glimpse of Jesus as he walked by with the crowd. 

What we need to do now, is pause and wonder, why a mature and worldly man would climb up a tree? What had Zacchaeus heard about Jesus that made him curious enough to go to such lengths to see Jesus with his own eyes?  At the very least,  “Zacchaeus has heard and believes that Jesus really does hang with and is a ‘friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Whatever his reasons, Jesus had a plan of his own. I wonder what the crowd thought when Jesus stopped under that sycamore tree. I reckon many of them would’ve known that Zacchaeus wasn’t a good person. But that didn’t deter Jesus. He just carried on.  “Hey, Zach. Come down ea; I’m coming to your whare for dinner tonight.”  Whether it was just his curiosity about Jesus that got him up that tree, Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus implies that there was more going on because “he hurried down and was happy to welcome Jesus.”

Of course the reaction of the bystanders won’t surprise you at all. Grumbling and complaining all around, as usual. There goes that Jesus again, off to dinner with another sinner. What is he thinking associating with such a person? I imagine he’s thinking: here’s another opportunity for a life to be transformed. You see, it’s easy for a rich person to isolate and insulate themselves with their wealth and to feel they have everything they need. This is why just a chapter earlier in Luke’s gospel, Jesus notes “how hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” But it’s not impossible.  For “what is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” But it’s very hard. Zacchaeus over the years must have justified to himself the means that he employed to become so rich as a tax collector, was all good, and he was comfortable in the life he had built. But Jesus sees through all of the trappings of financial success and looks straight into the heart of someone longing for a change.

As it turns out, Zacchaeus isn’t happy with the life he’s built. He hasn’t fooled himself into believing the ends justified the means. “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.” I don’t know how you read this conversation, but I read it as a cry for help.  Help me, Lord, to change my life. Help me, Lord, to put behind me those old selfish patterns of being bad. Help me not only to be just and fair, but to be generous, very generous.  “After all… as the biblical scholar states, “Repentance is not solely a transaction of the heart. Repentance bears fruit.” And, in this transformation comes Zacchaeus’ salvation, Jesus says, “for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

There are all kinds of ways to get lost. It’s easy to call to mind the more dramatic ways, because we hear about them in the news every day.  How truly lost must someone be, to pick up a gun and head out on a shooting spree.  But remember that we can become lost in other, far more subtle ways too.  In fact, some vices can work their way into our hearts so slowly that we don’t even notice. Among those sneaky vices are selfishness and greed. We won’t all rip-off others to get ahead, as Zacchaeus did, but it’s dangerously easy to convince ourselves we really do need just a little bit more.  And then just a bit more than that, and then there’s not much left over to help anyone else because we got most of it. None of us are exempt from that danger.

Zacchaeus may or may not have been a small man, but his need for a heart to heart conversation with Jesus was huge. The result of that conversation? A life transformed. Salvation, came to his house.  And it took a very concrete form.  Helping others. Helping the poor. Giving his money away. In other words, practicing real generosity. Something Zacchaeus needed to do for his salvation.

The good news for all of us is that Jesus did come “to seek … and … save the lost.”  Which means he can reach us wherever it is that we’ve gotten mixed up in and turn our lives around. He can reach us, help us, and transform our hearts and our lives.  Jesus can even do it around a dinner table. In fact, that was one of his favorite places for conversation with those longing for his help. Does this sound familiar to you all? It should do because we do it all the time, we like having a feed and talking.

Whether your own desire for transformation is great or small, whether it involves the way you relate to your family or to your neighbours, to your job or to your bank account, remember whanau, that this today Jesus wants to come to your whare, your homes to have dinner. So the question is, what is the conversation you are longing to have with Jesus?  “Hurry and come down.” For Jesus is here and he wants to have dinner with you tonight. Amen

The Venerable Kaio Karipa
Sydney Maori Anglican Fellowship Church of Te Wairua Tapu