Jesus continues on the way to Jerusalem, and the disciples remain… well, oblivious to what is going to happen. He knew that execution awaited him in the “holy city” and yet, knowing what was right, or perhaps better put, knowing what it meant to be faithful to his father he continued on the way. He told his disciples plainly, “the one who shows the way of true humanity (or human one, or son of man), will be handed over to the nations, he will be mocked, spat upon, tortured, and killed and on the third day he will rise again.” The disciples didn’t understand, their eyes could not see what was ahead.
As they approached Jericho, there was quite the commotion. And as their would have been, in any city, there were folks standing alongside the road in need of help. How they got there, was a lot less important than the reality that each individual was a neighbor in need. Folks in this sort of situation were on the edge, or, perhaps, they had already fallen off. There was a certain man, who is not even given a name – he is simply labeled by a disability – he is, simply a blind man. He hears the commotion, and cries out for help.
Those who were near him, tried to keep him quiet, but to no avail. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” (side note: calling Jesus, son of David here is more than a bit ironic, as King David grossly mistreated persons with disabilities, he was, in this way and in a few others, kind of a scum bag). Surrounded by folks telling him to be quiet, the blind man, is alone, he calls out for help and Jesus, takes another step away from Israel’s model king (again, perhaps Son of David is not the best title). Jesus approaches the man, and in the midst of the crowd telling him to shut up and get out of the way, Jesus grants him at least a bit of dignity by addressing him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to regain my sight.” he said, with his face aimed at the dirt…
“Look up friend, your faithfulness has saved you.”
Without skipping a beat, the man gets up and joins Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.
Last week Jesus encountered a rich man who walked away sad because Jesus called him to leave his wealth behind – to give it to his neighbors in need, and to follow on the way to Jerusalem. Now a poor beggar, cast away from society, is welcomed to the way of discipleship – a life of following in the way of Jesus and learning to live like him.
Still in Jericho, Jesus encounters another crowd, and another individual in the midst of it…
Zacchaeus was short in stature, though he was likely a man who was feared. He had probably worked hard to get where he was. He was the guy that scared the guys that made people nervous. And in that role, our text tells us, he became rich.
Collecting taxes in the first century, was a little different than it is today… to make a living as a collector, one would have to add a, we’ll call it a collector’s fee to the tax. These folks became notorious for taking… actually that is really all they did to the people of palestine, they took and they took and they took. Tax collectors were the enemy, and at their back stood the Roman Military. A ruler of the tax collectors… Zacchaeus was a big deal. When he heard that Jesus was coming to town something happened.
We are not told why, but Zacchaeus, the ruler of the tax collectors really wanted to see Jesus. It would have been quite embarrassing, for a guy like Z to even so much as go out of his way to watch a peasant walk by on the road, whatever got ahold of Zacchaeus, the town must have thought he had gone crazy. Leaving his self respect behind he goes a climbs a tree along the road.
As Jesus approaches, Zacchaeus is simply an observer – someone interested to see who this Jesus was. Zacchaeus was just watching from a tree until Jesus spoke to him.
Zacchaeus, I just met you and this is crazy, but climb down from there – come follow, maybe? [shameless attempt at a cultural reference]
Zacchaeus does it. Immediately. He climbs down from the tree, and receives Jesus in his home.
The crowd, Jesus’ followers most likely included start grumbling – hang on now Jesus’ this guy is pretty high up on the oppression food chain, and you are okay with that?
Zacchaeus speaks up, “Lord (a significant word), here is what I will do – cut the house in half and take my shirt, half of my possessions I give to the poor. And for those I have taken advantage of, I will use what is left to pay them back 4 fold.”
Zacchaeus recognized that in order to follow Jesus he was going to have to leave his old life behind. He couldn’t bring trunks of gold on the road to the cross, especially when he had neighbors in need and he realized that the reconciliation that Jesus brought to the world meant very little if it didn’t result in real, concrete acts of repentance, forgiveness and restoration.
The man whose sight was restored, followed Jesus on the way. Zacchaeus, ruler of the tax collectors, followed Jesus on the way. Two very different people, left all that they knew behind to follow Jesus in the way of love and sacrifice – in the way of God’s Kingdom.
Today we, as a church, celebrate All Saints day. That day in the church year that we remember those who have gone before us and those who stand with us as the people of God, from the two new disciples in our texts today, to those who have died, to our brothers and sisters here and across the world. All Saints, a family made up of every tongue, tribe, tone, and nation called to a new life together. Rich tax collectors and poor beggars called to leave everything behind, made to be a new family on the way of the cross.
There is perhaps, no better time to remember that as Jesus calls us, his people, to a new sort of life that it is the way of true and lasting life. It is the way of life that death cannot defeat, because God is setting the world right and death is the last enemy to be defeated… Jesus was crucified, and he was raised from among the dead. This our our hope. He has promised resurrection life to all of his people. All of his saints. Amen