Luke 19:1-10; Proper 26C
“♫Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he♫.”
Some of you may remember that song from your childhood Sunday School. Maybe you even sang it. I’ll spare you my singing of the rest of that song but what I can’t spare you is the fact that at some point we are all Zacchaeus, wee little men and women. Regardless of how tall we are, at some point in our lives we’ve known what it’s like to be “short in stature.” We’ve all been Zacchaeus. Maybe that’s the reality for some of you here today. Maybe you are short in stature.
To be short in stature is not about one’s physical height. It’s a spiritual condition that affects people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. It’s part of the human condition and it’s one of the threads that runs through this morning’s readings.
In today’s Old Testament reading (Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4) Habakkuk must have been feeling short in stature when he cried out “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, but you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2) He surely must’ve felt short in stature as he witnessed destruction and violence, justice that never prevails, and judgments that are perverted. (Habakkuk 1:3-4) Habakkuk’s world doesn’t seem all that distant or different from our own. Look at our world today and chances are you too will feel short in stature. Recall the times you’ve cried out to God but felt unheard and you’ll remember what it’s like to be short in stature.
Today we hear the Psalmist declare, “I am small and of little account” (Psalm 119:141). Have you ever felt like that? Ever felt as if you were “small and of little account?” That’s another aspect of what it’s like to be short in stature.
And in today’s gospel (Luke 19:1-10) Zacchaeus is described as a chief tax collector and he is rich. As such he was an outcast to his own people. He had no standing in society. He was in cahoots with the Roman occupiers. He preyed on his own people. He was looked down upon and despised by all. You may remember from last week’s gospel (Luke 18:9-14) and sermon that others pointed to his kind and thanked God they were not like him. He was, as St. Luke says, “short in stature.”
So I wonder, what is your Zacchaeus story? When have you been Zacchaeus? How have you experienced being short in stature? It happens in all sort of ways. See if any of this fits and sounds familiar to you.
Has life ever cut you down to size? Have you ever felt small and insignificant, ignored and of little importance? Have you ever felt as if you just don’t measure up, that you’re not enough? Do you sometimes feel as if you’re always on the outside, never an insider? Does it seem as if you can’t outgrow your past or the opinions of others? Are you constantly trying to prove yourself, not just to others but to yourself, or even to God? Does it seem as if your life is not growing, maturing, or deepening, and that your growth has become stunted? Do you ever wonder if Jesus even notices you, knows who you are, knows your name? Have you ever felt powerless and overwhelmed by the circumstances of your life? Does it sometimes seem as if your value, worth, and dignity have been defined by your past actions and choices, what you have done and left undone? Have you ever experienced being lost and anonymous in the crowds of life? Have you ever felt as if you just weren’t up to what life was asking of you?
If you answered yes to any one of those or a thousand other things like them then you probably know what it’s like to be short in stature. You know what it’s like to be Zacchaeus. I too know what that’s like.
I remember sitting in my office one night with the lights off, crying, looking out over Corpus Christi Bay, and wondering how my life had gotten to the point it was. I was the youngest and newest partner in the law firm. By all measures I was a success. I had everything I wanted and wanted nothing I had. I was short in stature. The day I got divorced I felt short in stature as I walked out of the courtroom. The night our son died I was cut down to size and I was short in stature. And there have been many days since I was ordained and called to be your priest that I have felt overwhelmed, uncertain, and short in stature.
Every time I feel short in stature I just want to run away and escape my life. I want to jump out of my life and into another life. But I can’t. It’s my life and it’s the only life I have. If Jesus is going to do anything new with me it has to start with my life as it is. To run away from, ignore, or try to escape my life as it is denies Jesus anything to work with. The antidote to being short in stature is facing our life, not running from it. That’s what Zacchaeus does in today’s gospel.
He refuses to be lost in the crowd. He refuses to hide. He refuses to run away from who he is. Instead, he runs ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree. Everyone could see what he was doing. St. Luke says he did that so he could see Jesus. But here’s what I wonder. What if he climbed that tree because he wanted to be seen by Jesus? What if that was how he faced the truth and reality of his own life? What if he wasn’t just climbing a tree but was climbing the cross of being short in stature? What if Zacchaeus was offering all that he was and all that he had to Jesus? What if that was him crying out, “Here I am. This is my life. Look at me, claim and recognize me too as a Son of Abraham?”
And that’s exactly what Jesus did. He stopped and “looked up” at Zacchaeus. I can’t help but wonder if that might not have been the first time anyone had ever looked up to Zacchaeus. Jesus looked up to him with love and acceptance. Jesus looked up and invited himself into Zacchaeus’ home, into his life. He saw more than a chief tax collector, a rich man, and a man short in stature. He saw what Zacchaeus couldn’t see for himself. He saw one of his own.
In the eyes of the crowd Zacchaeus is a sinner. In his own eyes he is a wee little man, short in stature. But in the eyes of Jesus Zacchaeus is a Son of Abraham. Zacchaeus was sought, seen, and saved. The lost one had been found.
That’s what I want when I am short in stature. Don’t you? Sure, I want to see Jesus but more than that I want to be seen by Jesus, even when I don’t like or can’t accept what I see in myself. I want to know that Jesus sees more in me than I can see in myself. I want to be recognized and called by name by the God who created me. I want to be reminded that I am more than what I have become. I want to know that despite what has become of my life I too am a child of Abraham. I want Jesus to call me out my tree, off the cross of being short in stature, and into a new life. I think that’s what you want as well. It’s what Zacchaeus wanted. Well let me tell you, this is our day because that’s the promise today’s gospel holds for each one of us.
Whatever it is that has made you short in stature and run you up the tree, that’s the place where Jesus stops, looks up with love and acceptance, and calls you back down into a new life. Let’s not turn away from that place. Let’s not turn away from the face of Christ.
It’s so easy to hear the name Zaccheaus and think only of the wee little man and to see the ways we’ve become short in stature but that’s only part of the truth. Do you know what the name Zacchaeus means? It means “pure,” “clean,” or “innocent.” That’s the greater truth. That’s what Jesus saw in Zaccahaeus. It’s what he sees in you and me, even when we don’t see it in ourselves or each other. He looks up and calls us back to our truest selves.
“Zacchaeus,” Jesus says to us, “you come down here right now. That’s not who you are. That’s not your place. You come down,
♫For I’m going to your house today!
I’m going to your house today!
I’m going to your house today!♫”