Fifty years, or so, before our story, a small seed fell to the ground, took root, endured children and dogs and hot sun and fierce winds, summer drought and the chill of the night … and it grew.
It grew and it grew into a fine sycamore tree … fifty or sixty feet tall … with figs … not a particularly good fig, but good enough … and more than good enough for climbing, with fine, sturdy branches.
The Great God Almighty said, I need me a sycamore tree in Jericho Town … right there, along the thoroughfare.
I need me a tree to help someone.
So I’m gonna plant it now.
It’s takes time to grow a good tree.
So I’ll plant it now.
It’ll be ready when Jesus comes to town.
And a small man wants to see him.
The little man will try to press through the crowds to see my Son, but the crowd doesn’t like the little man who takes their money, and they won’t help him see Jesus.
So, he’s gonna run ahead, because he knows where there’s a good climbin’ tree with strong branches … a tree in Jericho Town, just down the street … a tree I grew for Zacchaeus … so he can see Jesus.
I think of the million little things that happen in a lifetime … like a small seed falling to the ground.
A million little things … bits and pieces …
Who could ever guess?
Jesus says, Even a sparrow falls to the ground enfolded in the love of the Father … the hairs of our head are numbered …
God is the God of very small things.
A million little things …
A million little things that make all the difference.
It’s said of planet earth, that a few degrees difference makes all the difference … a few degrees closer to the sun, and earth would be too hot … a few degrees further away, earth would be too cold.
A million little things under the watchful eye of God.
Sparrows and seeds, and Zacchaeus, and a tree in Jericho Town.
And you and me.
And the days of our lives.
From the moment of our conception, to our very last breath, we say with the Psalmist, The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not lack for green pastures and still waters … the restoration of my soul … and right paths … a table well-set and a cup that overflows.
Even when life takes us to hard places and tough times …
Valleys of dark shadows and the chill of death.
I will fear no evil, for you are with me …
Your rod and your staff – they comfort me.
Who is Zacchaeus?
“A wee little man,” children might sing in Sunday School
Small in size, but large in ambition.
Zacchaeus was a rich man.
A tax collector.
Chief tax collector in the region of Jericho.
A collaborator with the enemy.
A friend of the Romans.
A man shunned by his own people.
Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus.
The whole town wants to see Jesus.
The crowds are thick along the roadway.
The little man tries to find a space.
But the crowds don’t give way.
Not for a man like Zacchaeus.
But the little man isn’t deterred.
He runs ahead and climbs a tree.
A tree that’s been waiting for him for 50 or 60 years.
From a seed planted by the Great God Almighty.
The Great God Almighty and a million little things.
A million little things we’ll never know.
Like the little seed that fell to the ground in Jericho Town.
And grew and grew into a mighty fine tree.
When Jesus comes to the tree, he looks up and says to Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house today, so come on down; be quick about it. We don’t have much time. We never do. Hurry on down, Zach m’ boy, hurry on down.
Of all the people in town, Jesus makes a fuss about Zacchaeus.
The crowd grumbles.
This Jesus goes to the house of a sinner.
Jesus manages once again to upset the status quo and irritate the people.
Jesus breaks the rules again.
Overturns the tables.
Disregards convention and crosses boundaries.
No only does Jesus welcome everyone.
But in this case, Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home.
Jesus doesn’t ask Zacchaeus to follow him.
Jesus follows Zacchaeus.
Is there any home too far for Jesus?
Any heart too distant for God’s love?
Jesus doesn’t condemn Zacchaeus.
Doesn’t ask him to change a thing.
Just wants to have lunch with him.
To remind the “good people” of Jericho Town that the boundaries they draw are a very poor map of God’s boundaries.
The crowd grumbles.
“What wrong with one of our homes?”
“We’re faithful; we’re good.”
“We’d be glad to bring out some food and provide some R & R for the day.
“Of all people, why Zacchaeus?”
But I guess Jesus has something to say.
Something to say about God.
As the hymn puts it,
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.
But the folks in Jericho Town didn’t want God’s mercy to be quite so wide.
Wide enough for them, of course.
But not so wide as to include Zacchaeus.
Gotta draw the line somewhere, right?
I guess it’s human nature.
The mercy of God is always wide enough to include us.
But we all like to put the brakes on God before things get outta hand.
Slow down God. Not so fast.
There are folks here we’re not too sure about.
It’s important for us to have folks out, so that we can feel in.
Strange isn’t it, how this works.
The crowds that day were eager for the things of God – healing and help and encouragement …
But when God shows up, it’s different than what they expect.
A God who is good in ways far and beyond what they want.
In Jericho Town that day, dozens of good families would have been pleased to welcome Jesus into their home.
Dozens of good families, but not one of them is called upon.
Jesus goes home with Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus is rightly taken with the moment.
He tells Jesus about his life.
He wants Jesus to understand that he’s a good and decent man.
Is he any different than any of us?
We want to folks to understand us.
We want the world to think well of us.
We choose the best side of our life to show to the world.
Might even make a few big promises now and then.
Zacchaeus makes some mighty big promises.
I’ll give back whatever I’ve taken, and then some.
At this point in the story, we might expect Jesus to say, “That’s really good Zacchaeus; you do that, and keep up the good work.”
But here’s one of the small things in the story.
Jesus ignores what Zacchaeus says, because Jesus knows that promises made in the heat of the moment are hard to keep.
In the heat of the moment, folks promise to be missionaries and preachers and go to church and mow their lawn and pay their taxes and never burn the mashed potatoes again.
But promises made in the heat of the moment – for love or money – are hard to keep.
Jesus knows that, and so do we.
Jesus knew that in the morning, Zacchaeus might well have what realtors call “Buyer’s Remorse.”
In the morning, the promises look a little more daunting then they did the night before.
“Those house payments are more than we want to make.”
“The house looked good, but now that we’ve had a chance to think about it, it may not be possible.”
“Buyer’s Remorse,” it’s called.
So Jesus doesn’t go to the promises that Zacchaeus makes.
Jesus speaks directly to Zacchaeus to assure him that the love of God is very wide: Salvation has come to this house …
That’s the story morning glory!
Irrespective of who you are and what you promise.
Because salvation is never energized by what we do or compromised by what we fail to do.
Salvation is energized by God.
By God’s love for all of us.
A free gift.
And we call it grace.
Paul the apostle says it well:
God chose us in Christ,
Before the foundation of the world.
God chose all of us.
Because there’s plenty of room at the foot of the cross.
That night, I wonder, what was the buzz in Jericho Town.
Did anyone have second thoughts about their values?
About the little man they didn’t like?
The boundaries they draw?
The world as they think it is?
About Jesus who says, This is what God is like!”
What was the buzz that night in Jericho Town.
What’s the buzz in my heart right now?
What’s the buzz in yours?
For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.
To God be the glory.
Amen and Amen!