The Message, October 30, 2022: "Transformed By Love," Luke 19:1-10

The Message, October 30, 2022: "Transformed By Love," Luke 19:1-10

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
November 02, 2022


“Transformed by Love”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Luke 19:1-10

            Tomorrow is Halloween. How many of you are going to dress up as Zacchaeus this year? Anyone? Anyone?

            Really? Why not? He is the most famous tax collector in the bible. In fact, he might be the most famous tax collector in history!

            The citizens of first-century Jericho would likely be shocked that their number one villain, would be one of the most famous people in our New Testament readings! Last Sunday, we talked about a despised and undesirable tax collector, a sinner that went up to the Temple to pray. This Sunday, we step up the unlikability factor! Zacchaeus may have been the most hated man in all of Jericho!

            Zacchaeus was not just an ordinary tax collector like last week’s character from the parable that Jesus told. He was the chief tax collector, or the tax commissioner. That means that all of the other tax collectors worked for him!

            I do not want to bore you with too many details … so I will bore you with just a few.

            Jericho was an extremely wealthy city. It sat right on the north/south trade route, as well as at one of the river crossings. A lot of trade flowed through the city; it was one of the greatest trade centers in Palestine. There was a lot of money to be made there. In fact, it was called the “fattest city in Palestine”! There were also a lot of taxes to be collected there.

            We heard last week that tax collectors were reviled. They worked for a foreign government collecting taxes from their own people, their friends and neighbors. It was a corrupt system and many of the tax collectors took a little extra cut for themselves on top of the taxes paid to Rome. As the CHIEF tax collector, Zacchaeus got an extra cut from all of those other tax collectors working for him.

            We can imagine that every time the people of Jericho saw him walk by in his fine robes, every time they saw his fancy home with his servants coming and going, they saw their hard-earned money. No doubt his lavish lifestyle rubbed them all the wrong way resulting in their hatred of him.

            On the day in question, Jesus came to town. He was making his final trip to Jerusalem. We know that his fame and popularity was at its pinnacle at that point, and throngs of people rushed to see him, hear him, and perhaps … hopefully … be touched by him. That was the scene that day. Jesus was going through Jericho, and everyone turned out for the wonderful spectacle … even Zacchaeus.


            Why did Zacchaeus feel the need to be there in the crowd that day? He likely would have felt uncomfortable in the crowd. He must have known how hated he was. We can picture the people taking the opportunity of the “crowd” to bump and jostle, poke and kick that man that they despised. What was it that Zacchaeus hoped for?

            He was exceedingly wealthy … but perhaps he was unhappy.
            He was surrounded by servants … but perhaps he was lonely.
            He was despised … did he feel like an outcast in his own city?
            Did he regret his career choice?

            Was he just curious? Did he simply want to catch a glimpse of the celebrity rabbi? Or did something else motivate him?

            He likely had heard that Jesus regularly welcomed sinners and tax collectors. Did he hope that he would be welcomed too? Was he reaching out for something? Perhaps love? Perhaps forgiveness? Perhaps community?

            Zacchaeus was desperate. So desperate in fact, that he RAN to see Jesus. That might not sound like a big deal to our twenty-first century ears, but it was a big deal in that setting. Adult men did not run. It was undignified. It was especially undignified for a wealthy man to run. It was even more undignified for a grown man to climb a tree. Even a tree that was as easy to climb as a sycamore tree. Zacchaeus would have been shamed and ridiculed for running and climbing that tree, but he did not care. He HAD to see Jesus!

            And then there HE was  … Jesus! Jesus and his entourage were right there in front of him. He saw him … Zacchaeus saw Jesus! And then the most amazing thing happened … Jesus saw Zacchaeus! Zacchaeus had risked humiliation and ridicule to see Jesus, and then Jesus saw him!

            With the benefit of hindsight, we know that it was not an accident that Jesus noticed Zacchaeus up in the sycamore tree. We know that Jesus came to seek out the lost. As he made his way to Jerusalem, he hoped to seek and save as many as possible.

            And there was Zacchaeus up in that tree. That man needed to be found.

            “Zacchaeus, I see you up there. Come on down from that tree. Today I must stay at your house.”

            “What?! MY House?!”

            Imagine! That announcement would strike both excitement and horror in the hearts of some of us here today. I know that there are people that spend a day and a half cleaning their homes before someone comes over for dinner. “Jesus … ummm … can you stop by tomorrow? After I have a chance to tidy up a bit?”

            In today’s world, it is socially unacceptable to invite oneself over for dinner like that. But, in that day, hospitality was of utmost importance. In that day, Jesus inviting himself over would have bestowed honor upon Zacchaeus and his household. That invitation would have recognized him and given him prominence in the community.

            No wonder that the crowd grumbled. Of all the people that Jesus could have picked out of the crowd, why HIM?! Why, Zacchaeus?! “Hey, Jesus, you can come to my house for dinner? I am not a filthy sinner like that one!!”

            Precisely. Jesus reached up and out to one whose heart needed to be sought that day. What would have happened if Jesus had just walked by Zacchaeus? What would have happened if he had simply waved ‘hello,’ or ignored him altogether? Jesus knew that Zacchaeus’ heart was open and searching. “Zacchaeus, come down from that tree.”

            Zacchaeus got so much more than he had ever hoped for. Jesus saw him. Jesus spoke to him. Jesus invited himself to his house. Jesus touched Zacchaeus’ heart and transformed his life.

            Some people are cynical of Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus. Some speculate that as a shrewd and crafty businessman, it was simply transactional. He was trying to purchase Jesus’ favor and buy a ticket into heaven. However, as we look at the story, we should see it as a powerful example of conversion. Zacchaeus’ extravagant restitution to those he had wronged should give us an indication of a genuine change of heart.

            There were laws regarding restitution. If a robbery was violent and deliberate, then a four-fold restitution was necessary. If it had been an “ordinary” robbery, then a double restitution was required. If a voluntary confession was made and voluntary restitution was offered, then the required restitution was the value of the original goods plus one-fifth of their value.

            So, as we can see, Zacchaeus did far more than what the law required. It is hard to believe that a man whose heart was still controlled by greed and avarice would make such an extravagant restitution. His heart had been changed. The love and grace of Jesus Christ transformed Zacchaeus’ heart.

            Jesus healed the blind and the lame. He healed the bent over woman and the hemorrhaging woman. Jesus healed the lepers and the man possessed by demons. As he was making his way through Jericho, Jesus healed the blind man sitting by the road. Jesus healed Zacchaeus in the same way that he healed all of the others. Jesus had healed the bodies of those others; he healed the heart of Zacchaeus.

            We know that the Son of Man came to seek the lost and to save them. Being “lost” in the New Testament does not imply that an individual is irretrievable. Their fate is not sealed. They are not doomed or damned. Rather, the word “lost” means to “be in the wrong place.” Someone is lost when they have wandered away from God. They are restored … they are saved … when they find their way back. Remember the Prodigal Son, and the father that said, “My son who was lost has been found.”

            The word “salvation” does not refer to some event that happens sometime later. It does not refer to the reward that we receive in the afterlife. Salvation is something that can happen right now, in the present day. Salvation means being set free from our present circumstances.

            Salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house that day. The love and compassion of Jesus Christ set him free.

            We love the story of Zacchaeus. It is entertaining and fun, even comical. The image of chubby, little Zacchaeus running and climbing the tree may make us smile, perhaps even laugh.

            Are we ready to don our Zacchaeus costumes this year? Are we running to see Jesus? Are we doing everything that we can to be in his presence? Are we hoping that he will invite himself into our homes, to touch our hearts?

            Or … is there a part of ourselves that secretly hopes that he will pass on by? Is there a part of our hearts that thinks that he asks too much of us?

            Jesus is not coming to town sometime later; he is here now … today. Will he be welcome in our homes? Will he transform our hearts?



Congregational Church