Christ Lutheran Community Church

Upper Darby

Christ Lutheran Community Church

November 3, 2019 Worship Sermon - "Zacchaeus"

Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser


Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 32:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12;  Luke 19:1-10

The story of Zacchaeus is one of the stories we teach children in Sunday School.  When I was little, we even learned a song to go with it:

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore for the Lord he wanted to see
And when the savior passed that place he looked up in the tree
And he said, “Zacchaeus, come down, for I’m coming to your house today.”

I think part of the reason children love the story of Zacchaeus is because he was short and children can relate to him.  I can still relate to him.  I don’t even bother going to the Mummers parade anymore because I can’t see anything over the shoulders of all the tall people standing in front of me.

Zacchaeus may have been short, but he was a climber.  Not only did he climb sycamore trees; he was a career climber.  Luke tells us that he was a tax collector… the chief tax collector… and he was rich!  Jericho would have been a prime location for tax collectors because it was on a major trade route and you could tax all the goods that were being brought back and forth throughout the Middle East.


You might know that tax collectors were even less popular in Jesus’ day than they are today.  They were seen as despicable opportunists who profited at the expense of their fellow countrymen.  But Zacchaeus had his money to consol him.

Who knows why Zacchaeus ran out into the street to see Jesus.  Maybe he was looking for a good networking opportunity.  But the only thing Zacchaeus could see were the backs of the other towns people.  However, this rich bureaucrat wasn’t too proud to climb a tree and look down on Jesus and the rest of the crowd.  When Jesus walked under the tree, he called up, “Zacchaeus, come down.  I want to come to your house.” 

Now in the Gospel of Luke, all these vertical stage directions are significant.  To be high up is to be exalted.  The proud and the powerful are up here while the rest of us are down here.  But the Gospel of Luke turns all that upside down.  At the beginning of the Gospel, Mary sings, “You have cast the mighty down from their thrones and have lifted up the lowly.”  And Jesus, instead of preaching the sermon on the mount, like he does in Matthew, preaches the sermon on the plain.  In the Gospel of Luke, salvation isn’t a matter of upward mobility; it’s a matter of downward mobility.  Climbing doesn’t get you closer to God; just the opposite, it separates you from God because God is down here among us. 

So Jesus invites Zacchaeus to come down from the tree; Zacchaeus responds and salvation comes to his house.  After he encounters Jesus, Zaccheus is transformed.  He promises to pay back all the people he’s cheated and to give half of his possessions to the poor.  That’s true repentance.  Sometimes we have a distorted view of grace: we assume that since God forgives us and we’re going to heaven, it doesn’t really matter what we do.  Zacchaeus corrects this distortion.  The people he cheated were still suffering even though he and Jesus were now friends.  So Zacchaeus wanted to make amends. 

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but what really matters in this story is that Jesus saw him.  Jesus took the initiative.  He didn’t stand under the tree and say, “Zacchaeus, get your life together and then maybe we can talk.”  He said, “Zacchaeus, I want to come stay with you; bring me to your home.”  It’s such a subtle thing, but it’s the difference between a way of salvation that depends on us and a way of salvation that depends on God. Jesus invites himself into Zacchaeus’s home; Zacchaeus is overwhelmed with gratitude and vows to change his life.  That’s how salvation comes to us.  God approaches us first.   In the midst of our sin and brokenness, God speaks a word of forgiveness and healing.  And this radical love and acceptance transforms us. 

Today, we celebrate All Saints Day and the story of Zaccheus gives a wonderful illustration of what Sainthood looks like.  Saints are not saints because they climb high on the Spiritual sycamore tree in order to be closer to God.  Saints are saints because God comes to them in Jesus Christ and invites himself into the house of their heart. 

All of you are saints because you have been called by Jesus Christ, joined to him in the waters of baptism, and nourished by him at this table.  Martin Luther said we are both saints and sinners at the same time: sinners because we continue to try to climb away from God and away from other people; saints because God continues to call up to us beckoning us to come back down to our home in Jesus Christ.