This week's lectionary gospel reading is the story of Zaccheus. Short guy. Wanted to see Jesus. Got what he wanted.
I've been thinking about Zaccheus this week - I'm going to preach this text for Reformation Day on Sunday. (Frankly, I'm a little disappointed there's only one text for Reformation Sunday, given the reformers' love of scripture in all its variety and glory.) Maybe you know the song I used to sing in Sunday School:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
A wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
for the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way,
He looked up in that tree,
And the Lord said, "Zacchaeus!
You come down! For I'm going to your house today!
For I'm going to your house to stay!"The song, of course, misses the point. Zacchaeus isn't remarkable because he's short: he's remarkable because he's a tax collector whom Jesus forgives and with whom Jesus eats and drinks. Jesus chooses the disreputable tax collector to prove to the upstanding Pharisees that tax collectors need saving, too.
But what happened after Jesus left? I'll bet that after Jesus wasn't around anymore, plenty of folks found ways to bring Zacchaeus back to earth. That's what we do, after all. How many of you have heard or seen someone experience a moment in the spotlight, only to get dragged back down by the jealousy of everyone around them? And even when the people involved in the story aren't petty and envious, life in general has a way of humbling us sooner or later.
Here's the thing about mountaintop experiences like the one Zacchaeus experienced: they are the exception in our lives. Life can be grand and beautiful, or dark and tragic, but most of it is somewhere in between. Zacchaeus appears in one brief story here in Luke: what do you imagine the rest of his life was like? Bills, groceries, the wife, kids, taxes and death - just like you and me.
But. That one encounter. How that changed everything. We can't forget it, can we?
No matter what may come, we are Jesus' own now, gathered and sent in grace to serve. Sometimes, like Derek Webb sings, we are called to leave familiar places and beloved people behind, to strike out on the road. Zacchaeus had an incredible encounter with the Savior of all - and, after he exited the stage on which Luke presents his story, he kept on going. He lived. We don't know how long, or with what struggles, but we know at least for a while he lived, without the immediate presence of Jesus. Such a life requires much grace, and much faith.
The Spirit in you calls you, like the psalmist, to look to the hills and be reminded: you are not forgotten. The road you travel is not without a guardian. You may not be on the mountain, or deep in the darkest valley, but wherever you are, your feet do not walk this path alone. Zacchaeus saw his Lord, and knew grace and faith - you and I know it, too. As Derek Webb sings, "[We] walk with grace [our] feet, and faith [our] eyes." May it always be so. Amen.