The Heart of Zacchaeus – The Rev. Michelle Meech
October 30, 2022
I am someone who wasn’t raised up in church. But I do have a much older cousin who taught Sunday School and she would come and pick me up Sunday mornings for a couple of years when I was quite young. I remember things like Bible drills, and the card I received that had the Lord’s prayer on it. And, for some reason, I also remember this ear-worm of a song about Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus was a wee-little man, and a wee-little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see
And the Lord said: “Zacchaeus, you come down!”
For I’m coming to your house today. For I’m coming to your house today.”
There was nothing in the song about Zacchaeus being a tax collector. Nothing about him being despised by the people of Judea because of his job. All I grew up knowing about this person Zacchaeus is that he was short and he desperately wanted to see Jesus. And, perhaps because of that song, I grew up knowing that the reason Jesus decided to go and visit Zacchaeus, was because of this second thing. Jesus decided to go and visit Zacchaeus because Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. He wanted to know Jesus.
There is something to this – to our desire to see God, our desire to know Christ. And it’s something that is easily ignored, easily left behind, I think. Because it’s so much easier to get lost in the world.
Last week, Trinity Retreat Center asked me to come and lead a retreat. And we talked about this very thing – how easy it is to leave behind the desire for God because we get so wrapped up in trying to make ourselves known, trying to make a place for ourselves in this world, trying to get attention by achieving or being helpful, trying to be safe by knowing a lot or asking for advice all the time, trying to have a sense of control over the world or over ourselves.
And what it all boils down to is a desire to be known and be loved. To find and receive love.
While we were at the retreat, a friend and fellow priest named Mark told a story that spoke to this desire. He said that there was a man who was crawling around on the ground on his hands and knees… looking at the ground the whole time. A woman came up to him and asked, what are you looking for? The man replied, my key. The woman said, I’ll help you look. So she got down on her hands and knees and started looking. After an hour or so of crawling around and searching, the woman stopped and said, you know… we don’t seem to be having any luck… do you remember where you lost it?
The man replied, yes… I had it with me in front of my house. The woman asked, then why are we searching here? And the man replied, because this is where there is light.
The man, you see, was looking in the wrong place for what he had lost. Looking where he was never going to find it. Looking based on his own definition of what was needed to be able to find it.
The human tendency for this misjudgment is constant. Our capacity to look in the wrong places for what we have lost is immeasurable. The human drama is played out all the time in story after story of looking for what we desire in the wrong place. And this activity, which seems to take up most of our lives, is the very thing that leads us away from God because we start to believe more in the world’s definitions of safety and success and wealth and beauty and security than we believe in the truth of God. We look for the key in the wrong place, it seems. Leaving behind our desire to really see God and ignoring our deeper desire to really know Christ.
God, then, starts to be defined by our own expectations and needs, by our own judgments and fears. And all of this is a result of searching for God in the worldly definitions of safety, success, beauty, and security. The worldly definitions of Love. This is the human condition.
If we recall the lesson from last week – when we learned about the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee was the well-respected one who did all the right things based on the religious laws. The tax collector was the one who took a corrupt job in which he was forced to swindle people to make a living so he was despised. The Pharisee’s prayer was one of “thank God, I’m not him” and the tax collector’s prayer was one of, “God, help me.” Jesus used these two in a parable to describe the spiritual trait of being humble, saying that the tax collector was the one who really understood how to look for God.
Because it’s not in our shininess. It’s not in our accomplishments. It’s not in how right we are or how smart we are. It’s not in our lifestyle or our specialness or other people’s respect. It’s not in any of the identities we project out into the world. God is not found in our version of where the light is. God is found in our vulnerability, in our being humble, in our willingness to not know the answer.
Jesus didn’t come to Zacchaeus because he was in the sycamore tree. If you recall, the first thing Jesus said to him was, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down.” Jesus came to find Zacchaeus only because Zacchaeus was ready to find Jesus. He was ready to return to God.
It’s not that our accomplishments and our successes are bad. Not at all. Our God-given gifts are meant to be developed and kindled and used for the good of creation. In Christian terms, they are meant to be used for ministry. But they are not how we find love. They are not meant to replace God.
The church’s season of Pentecost – this season we are in right now, is one designed to teach us more about human nature and our tendencies to leave God in favor of the light we perceive will help us to find that lost key. The lessons are usually about what righteousness (something we define as being close to God)… actually looks like, which is usually not what we would prefer it to be. And the lessons also point to the limitations of our power.
Our prophet Habakkuk tells us the story today of how he cried out for God as he looked out on the violence of the world and how the bad people seemed to be prevailing over the good people. And he decided to wait on God for some kind of answer. When he finally received it, God said, “The end of this is coming and those who are not living by their own pride, those who are faithful, will know me. They will know peace.”
And this beautiful story from Luke’s Gospel so eloquently points to this end moment. Zacchaeus’ attempts to be seen rather than known are not why Jesus comes to find him. Rather, it is Zacchaeus’ heart, it is our heart and its earnest desire to know the truth of who we are. It is time for Zacchaeus to stop trying so hard to be seen. It is the end of his world, you see. He has learned the truth of who he is.
In knowing the truth of who we are, we learn who God is and we come to know Christ.
All of our striving is just striving. All of our searching is just searching. All of our working is just working. These are good and holy things. Necessary for the common good. And… not where God is found.
Because God is found here. In our hearts. Where we come before the manger on bended knee to bring all that we have and all that we are as an offering to the most vulnerable among us, especially to the most vulnerable parts of our self. When we are face to face with this, we are indeed ready to know God.
And then, from this place, our efforts become something new. Our striving and our searching and our working take on meaning as we learn to truly serve others and know Christ.