This Sunday, November 15, I am preaching on Zacchaeus, the wee little tax collector who scampered up a sycamore tree so that he could see Jesus. Zacchaeus got more than he bargained for. He not only saw Jesus, but Jesus stopped and talked to him up in that tree. Not only did Jesus stop and talk to Zacchaeus, Jesus said he was coming over to his house and stay with him. Well, this all follows the way we learned the story as children and Sunday School. It’s a nice story of a sinner who finally gives back to the poor much of the money that he as extorted from them and everyone is happy in the end.
However, when I began to study the story a little deeper, I found that I really did not want to preach on what I thought was a happy little story of a sinner who repents and happily follows Jesus. It is that and much more… and then the story of this wee little rich guy became downright convicting. It began to get a little too close to home. I began to see that Zacchaeus has given us an incredible example of giving. When Jesus came to the house of Zacchaeus, he responded by giving half of his possessions to the poor. He was so thrilled that Jesus would break all the social and religious norms and taboos and come to his house that his possessions took on new light. What he held on to so tightly, he now freely gave away. He was so thankful that Jesus freed him from his slavery to money and possessions that he gave a large portion of it away. Maybe this is really a thanksgiving story.
I don’t like to think of myself as rich. I can always see others as having bigger and better cars and houses than me and take exotic vacations. But one stat that I came across recently said that anyone making over $47,500 a year was in the highest 1% of the world’s wealthiest people. Another stat showed that around $47,500 is the median wage for Americans. So most Americans are wealthier than 99% of the world’s population! And I fit easily in that category! Most of us are very wealthy and we just as well as come to grips with the undeniable fact.
Now certainly we do not need any more rules as to how much we should give to the church and other charitable causes. The Zacchaeus story is not prescriptive on what we “should” do but rather “descriptive” of what one rich person did when experienced the love and acceptance of Jesus for the first time.
We have to ask ourselves several questions, and this is where it gets sticky. I don’t really want to ask these questions of myself and find it difficult to preach on because what I preach about, I had better be consistent on in my own life. The question comes to me, “How has Jesus really redefined my life and how thankful am I for the grace, love, and acceptance Jesus has shown to me?”I will preach the sermon and I will continue to struggle with what it means for me to be a very wealthy person. May God bless you all as you journey on the path of freely following Jesus.