by Reverend Daniel Panitz
Imagine that you had definite destination in mind while walking down a city street. Suddenly you noticed a crowd gathered around you and there up in a tree you saw an onlooker amongst the crowd. You recognized at once that this small man was the head of a gang that was stealing from the poor, and had profited much from his ill gotten deeds. He was part of a protected few government informants, who had bribed their local politicians for their protection, and who now thrived off the backs and hard work of the everyday guy in the street. You recognized him immediately. You even knew his name but you had never met him before. Then you called out to him, and to his surprise, he came down to from the tree overjoyed that you had recognized him. The crowd around you and him objected and began to think why in the world you would call out to such a desperado. To their even greater surprise you invited him to take you to his house. And indeed he took you to his home where the crowd, in total disgust followed. What they must have thought of you, a good man inviting a thief to take you to his home? Why would you, a respected man stoop so low as to invite this despicable, yet evil and powerful man to spend time with you in his home?
Such an incident occurred in the case of Zacchaeus the Tax collector, (Luke 19:1-9). Jesus was passing through Jerico where a crowd was forming to see Jesus. Zacchaeus was a short man who climbed a tree to get a better look at this man who called himself the Son of God. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and actually was the chief tax collector in Jerico. There was no doubt that he was a hated man and viewed by the Hebrews as a thief that took advantage of his Roman Position as tax collector by over charging them for taxes. Zacchaeus had climbed a fig tree in front of this crowd who hated him. What a brazen indifference he demonstrated. He could have just blended into the crowd or better yet just not come. But something drew him to the Lord something much greater than any fear he may have had from those that he had abused. This was a divine appointment he had with the Lord. When Jesus saw him up in the tree, He knew Zacchaeus by name and called in down. “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” said Jesus. Now Jesus did not say I would like to stay at the house of Zacchaeus. Jeus said He must stay at the house of this most detestable man. If Jesus is saying that he must stay then one can interpret that to mean that this was a divine meeting that should take place at the house of Zacchaeus, and because it was divine then it was God’s will. Now Jesus knew the name of Zacchaeus without ever knowing him. He knew him by name. Now we see the will of God at work. Jesus said he Must stay with the emphasis on the word must. Zaccaheaeus despite any fear of the crowd was drawn to Jesus, and was there in a tree, ready for his divine appointment with Jesus.
When Jesus summoned Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus gladly climbed down the tree and looked to our Lord and said “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I cheated anybody out of anything I will pay back four times the amount”. So freely without any request from our Lord Zacchaeus sought the favor
of our Lord. His offering was pure of his heart and meant to put himself right in the eyes of the Lord. Now some of you may say why did he not offer all of his wealth to the poor rather than only give up only one half. I believe the way to the lord is not measured in amount but rather in heart. We ask of others not to let material possessions cloud the way to our Lord. Then if this is so then we must understand that the Lord sets no requirements on salvation other than a pure heart. One does not reach heaven buy buying his way in, and there is no amount required in order for God to love you. There is no work or deed requirement on His grace. Yet the intention to reach the poor and to repay his misdeeds certainly was something that the Lord must have smiled at as Jesus said to all that were at the house of Zacchaeus , “ Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost”. I interpret this to mean that in front of all that were abused by Zacchaeus, a powerful and wealthy man in this community of Jericho had the desire to be with the Lord and to receive salvation. The draw of the Lord was so strong that the great offender Zacchaeus came down to the Lord and opened his heart. The crowd witnessed this most cathartic moment in the Life of Zachaeus. Now if Zacchaeus came to the Lord; then the crowd witnessed the absolute strength of the Lords Grace. His forgiving grace was with Zacchaeus. If Zacchaes could receive redemption then any sinner could also. Another equally important interpretation is that the Lord came to seek and save everyone that was lost the wealthy the poor and salvation was not related to what or how much they would give but rather directly related to the heart of the one seeking redemption. So the Lord came as a Jew, a son of Abraham, to stand amongst Jews, sons of Abraham to save them as the Son of God with no regard to any material sacrifice or the past of the individual but rather to open pure heart of the person.
Now if you were walking in your community could you pardon those who may be considered offensive to you? Could you open your heart to meet another open heart? Can you do this even if there is no reward or payoff for you? The next time you are in an Elevator do not look away from your brothers. Do not fear direct contact. Look to them and open your heart as the Lord would have. Just a little smile will open the possibility of doing as God would want you to do. Do not judge your neighbors or let material possessions cloud the way of your open heart. Believe me, your love can make the all difference and can change another’s stone heart into brotherly love. We must give others pardon and opportunity to change their ways in a loving environment as only Love will provide the correct energy to transform a damaged heart.
Rev. Daniel Panitz