A news story caught my eye recently. A group of kids at a school was a cat stuck up a tree. They saw a cop, and begged him to rescue the cat: “You gotta get the cat! You gotta get the cat!” So the cop dutifully started to climb up the tree to rescue the cat. Except the cat didn’t really want to be rescued, so it jumped a bit higher, and the officer dutifully climbed a bit higher… until he realised that he was stuck. The cop had to call the New York Fire Department to bring a tower ladder and bucket in order to rescue him and the black and white cat. It’s probably a good thing that Zacchaeus didn’t get stuck when Jesus invited himself over for dinner.
When have you been left out?
We continue our series on our vision and mission today, and we’re looking at the first mission intention: Transforming Lives. And I want to ask you whether you remember ever being left out for something. Who was ever the last picked on the sports team? Have you ever been the next person in line when the “Sold Out” sign was put up? Have you ever been dropped from a team?
On the other hand, have you ever been given an opportunity to skip the queue? For example, you’re lining up in the supermarket for the only lane that’s open, and there’s five or six people in front of you. Then an assistant comes and asks if you’d like to move to their lane – how awesome is that! An opportunity to skip the queue.
Zacchaeus – the doubly disadvantaged
It’s really tough to be left out of something, or to be the last one picked. For Zacchaeus, although he was rather influential, he was marginalized both socially and religiously. Firstly, he was short, and society, like today’s society, wants to admire the tall, not the short. You need to be big and strong, not short and weak. But on top of that, Zacchaeus was the Chief Tax Collector. Now, tax collectors – as a whole – were hated amongst the Jews, and seen as being traitors by them, and despised by the Romans they worked for as being Jews. But Zacchaeus wasn’t just a tax collector, he was the chief tax collector. He had a number of tax collectors who worked under him, who would siphon the money back to him, who would then siphon the money up to the Romans, with each one taking their own cut. He was hated by everyone.
So when he wants to go and see this teacher guy who has a habit of loving the unloveable, he knows that no-one in the crowd is going to get out of his way so that he can see. So he decides that the best thing to do is to climb up a tree – which is the sort of activity that a child would do, not some important official (even if no-one respected the important official).
Zacchaeus jumps over every disadvantage that he has, in order to hear or see this teacher guy.
Zacchaeus jumps the queue
This extravagant gesture by Zacchaeus is matched by Jesus, who also acts to overcome Zacchaeus’ double disadvantage. He invites himself over for dinner. He just walks up to the tree, and says “Zacchaeus, what are you doing up there? I’m gonna stay at your place today, so hurry up and get down here.” Now Zacchaeus was over the moon – this incredible teacher, who people wouldn’t even get out of the way to let him see, singled him out and was going to stay at his place.
Now, of course, this got a few people grumpy. I mean, no-one likes being looked over, and there were all these other people there who thought that they should be look at before this “sinner”. Luke doesn’t name this group. It’s just “They.” “All who saw it” were grumbling. “They” – this unnamed group – probably represents the crowd that Jesus is actually trying to teach. Zacchaeus isn’t who Jesus’ teaching was intended for, it was this group.
So what are they offended at? They’re angry that Zacchaeus was included. They’re angry that he jumped the queue. They’re angry that he got the preferential treatment.
It’s so easy to get like that isn’t it? How do you feel if you’re 4th in line, and the teller comes and grabs everyone behind you to go and join a new lane? Or if you’ve been waiting for something, and someone else gets it before you do?
This jumping the queue – that’s what grace is like. And it’s so annoying, isn’t it? We feel like we’ve been putting in the hard yards, and then someone comes along and gets just the same as us. It’s offensive to our sense of entitlement.
But Jesus doesn’t care about that. In one way he’s saying “The Age of Entitlement is over” – but in another, he’s saying “The Age of Entitlement is Here… for everyone.” Jesus acts in radical acceptance of Zacchaeus, and shows him grace. This grace goes before any change that can happen in him. It is only through this grace – that isn’t just available for Zacchaeus, but is available for everyone – that transformation can happen within Zacchaeus.
So what does Zacchaeus do with this gift? See, the gift of grace – while it’s there for all of us to take – is actually an invitation. Once we receive it, we must do something with it. For Zacchaeus, he reconnects with his community. He puts the wrongs he has done right, he gives away half his possessions, and pays back anyone he’s defrauded. So Jesus declares that salvation has come to this house – because of the actions in response to that grace, Zacchaeus is transformed, and is saved. By grace, anyone can be saved – even a rich man who society hates.
We can help others jump the queue
One of our mission priorities is transforming lives. This is described as “Working for personal renewal through Jesus Christ, that touches and integrates the whole person.” For us to do that, we need to show grace to everyone who comes through our door. When we show the radical acceptance that Jesus showed to Zacchaeus, we open the door to allowing radical transformation within people’s lives.
Through every program that we run, we must be inclusive of everyone, no matter what state they come in. Now, sure, we’ve got some women’s groups, and some Men’s groups, but we must be inclusive of all that come along to those groups. Now, I think we do a pretty good job at that, however, we must always be careful to make sure that we measure up to our ideal. I’m sure that the people surrounding Zacchaeus who were grumbling thought that they were pretty good – indeed they thought that Jesus should come to them before going to Zacchaeus. So who are the people that are rejected by society today, and how would we react if they came through our doors one Sunday? How would we react if they wanted to join one of our programs?
Andrew Marr wrote that “The challenge of this story… is not limited to the possible conversion of one person, but it extends to the possible conversion of the whole community.” When we show grace to one person, yes, it opens up the possibility of conversion there. But when we show grace to one person, it opens up the possibility of conversion to the whole community of people that that person influences as well.
Each week, I meet with some of the local pastors around the place. This week just gone, we met at Gateway church, where that church was having a conference with some guest pastors. They had had a rally the night before, and they were sharing stories of people who were healed, people who were converted and so on. And the lead pastor there really stressed that as their church were following what they were called to do, and every other church did what God was calling them to do, that through all of that, we can witness the transformation of our whole community, all across the North West. Each person that is transformed is a witness to that transformation, and in turn has the opportunity to transform others.
We can jump the queue ourselves
The beauty of it is that it all starts with us. The grace of God, which goes before us, which is there before we even start seeking for it, is always there, waiting for us to take it and be transformed.
Grace doesn’t care where you’ve come from. Grace doesn’t care where you’ve been. Grace doesn’t care whether you’ve been here 80 years or you’ve been here 8 minutes. Grace doesn’t care.
But, Grace will be with you wherever you go. Grace will help shape your every actions. And grace can stay with you for the rest of your life. Grace has the ability to transform your life.
If we’re going to transform our community, and transform others lives, we have to be open to allowing grace to transform our own life. I’m going to play a video, and it very basically tells peoples stories that have been transformed by grace. Their lives have been transformed by grace, and yours can as well. And as we are transformed, we can then go out to transform others.
While you listen to that, you might want to ask Jesus to transform your life. Maybe you’re willing to accept that grace that is being offered to you. Maybe, you’ve been guilty of being the others, the crowd that judged and excluded Zacchaeus. Maybe you’re willing to stand today, and say I am going to show the radical, inclusive love that Jesus showed me, and I’m going to live that out in my life.