Luke 18.35-19:10

 

            35 As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ 38Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 39Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 40Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, 41‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ 42Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’ 43Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

            1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ 9Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’ 339

 

 

When my grandfather retired after a long career as a house painter, this was probably 60 years ago now, he and my grandmother built a house up in Lamartine—just off Highway 151 on the way to Fond du Lac.  It was a little two bedroom home, painted white with blue shutters on the front.  They built it on the hill that sloped down to the only street in town.

I remember the hill because we used to gather out there on weekends and the cousins would lay on the grass and roll down that hill over and over again—until the heartiest of us was sick enough to swear we’d never do it again.  And we didn’t either—at least, not till the next time we went to visit.

Shortly after they built the house and moved in my grandfather, who was a lifelong compulsive planter of trees and bushes and anything that might grow, planted two weeping willows in his front yard.  To call them trees would have been a stretch, of course.  They were little whips he probably cut off a real tree someplace and rooted in a bucket of water.  They were maybe 3 feet high, no branches, no leaves; but in his mind alive with possibilities.

When he finished planting his twigs and was surveying his work a neighbor came out and yelled over to him—“Why are you planting trees?  You won’t live long enough to sit in the shade anyway!”  Now grampa was probably 65 or so at the time, and this was the 1950’s, so it was fair to assume, as the neighbor did, that he was on the downslope of his life.

My grandfather, a stern man not given to a surplus of words, didn’t say a thing to his neighbor—this is how we always heard the story, anyway.  He just walked to the garage and came back with his favorite rocking lawn chair, placed it quite deliberately next to his newly planted twig, and sat down. 

There is an old Jewish saying—“If you have a sapling in your hand and they tell you that the Messiah has arrived, first plant the tree and then go out to greet him.”  I don’t know if my grandfather ever heard that bit of wisdom, but he certainly lived by it.  It always seemed to me that no matter what life threw at him, he responded by finding some barren spot in his yard, or his neighbor’s yard or his kid’s yard, and filling it with beauty and hope. 

Life wasn’t always easy.  He planted a lot of trees.

I inherited my own compulsion for digging holes and planting things from my grandfather and have always tried to follow his example.  I have dug a lot of holes and planted a lot of trees.  And every one has been an act of hope.   So yeah, if I knew the world was ending tomorrow, as Martin Luther was supposed to have said, I’d go out this afternoon and plant a tree.

 

Something like this is happening in the gospel story we are reading this morning.

You may remember, I think it was three weeks ago, we came to a point in Luke’s telling of the Jesus story where something changes.  The story turns and Luke says, in a solemn tone, that Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem”.  His wandering around Palestine, that had seemed a bit haphazard to this point, became purposeful. 

He set Jerusalem as his goal knowing that his life would now spiral down into pain and suffering before ending on a Roman cross.  He set his face toward Jerusalem; toward the end of his life; toward the end of the world.

Today the story brings him to Jericho—the physical low point on his journey.  From here is is 15 miles in distance, but 3400 feet in elevation—all up hill, to Jerusalem. (S) From here, everything gets harder, the threat—the certainty, of rejection and death looms ever larger.

They come to the edge of the town. Jesus is surrounded by his disciples, and they  are surrounded by the crowd, the wondering and expectant crowd.  Off the edge of the road a blind bigger sits with his blanket and his bowl.  He hears the gaggle of voices and the tramping of feet.  He asks what is happening and is told, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by”.

He knows that name.  He’s heard the stories.  Hope is born.  Suddenly he dares to imagine a life different from the one he is stuck in.  He imagines being whole again.  He imagines—he sees an end to the darkness; a life with eyes that work.

And so he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David.  Have mercy on me!”

Those closest to him give him a kick and tell him to shut up.  But hope is sweet and hope is strong and his will not be silenced.  He cries out even louder, “Jesus, Son of David.  Have mercy on me!”

He goes on calling until Jesus notices and the crowd stops.

Now remember, these are days of trouble for Jesus.  His road from here is up hill all the way to Jerusalem.  And this is just one blind beggar—one among thousands of such people in Palestine.  When the world is about to end you don’t stop for just anybody, do you?

Jesus does.

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asks.

“Lord”, he says, “let me see again”.

The world is about to end, and what does Jesus do?  He plants a tree in the middle of this man’s life—he plants hope, not knowing what will come of it.  He gives the future he won’t see to blind man who now will.

“Receive your sight”, he says; “your faith has saved you”.

And he’s back on the road, his face set once again toward Jerusalem.

But now they are in Jericho, moving at the speed of a crowd down the town’s main road.   And I imagine Jesus looking ahead to where the branch of a sycamore tree reaches out over the street and he sees a kid perched over the crowd.  He starts to smile and does a double take, realizing it’s not a kid, but a small man; not a poor man either, judging by the color and quality of his robe.

And I imagine him nudging James and John—the famous Sons of Thunder you know, who were not above calling down fire from heaven on their enemies.  “Hey guys”, he says, “look at that.  Find out who he is”.

James and John move into the crowd and begin asking questions.  They come back in a few minutes, sour looks on their faces.  “He’s just some cheating rat tax collector.  Name’s Zacchaeus.  He’s rich, but everybody says he’s nothing but a stinking, Roman loving traitor.”

“Ah!”, Jesus says, and they walk on.

Till they come to the tree.  Jesus stops and looks up.  The disciples look up.  The crowd looks up.

And Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, I’m hungry.  Hurry down.  I’m coming to your house today”.            The crowd utters a collective gasp.

This is a bridge too far for them.  This is that “open arms” welcoming thing Jesus does carried to an extreme they can’t tolerate.  This circle is way too wide, way too generous.

“He’s going home to eat with a sinner”, they say.  “A no good, cheating, lying, Roman-loving piece of garbage”, they probably said, though Luke doesn’t put it quite that way.

And who knows, maybe he was all of that.  We don’t know.  Or maybe his story was more complicated.  Perhaps we would have some empathy for poor Zacchaeus if we knew the story behind the story that so offended his neighbors. 

But we don’t know.

And neither did Jesus.

And it didn’t matter.

And that’s the point.

Remember again what’s happening here.  Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem.  He’s on that downward spiral that ends in the Good Friday chaos of suffering and death.  His world is coming to an end.  This is the time when you do and say what is most important; when every word, every act has to count.

He stands there—I was going to say face to face with a man who ought to have been his enemy but that’s not right.  Zacchaeus was the enemy.  He was on the wrong side of everything; the one who sold out to Rome—the oppressors of his own people.   The very ones who will, a week or so later, be nailing Jesus to a cross.

So he has every reason to slam the door.    Every reason to assume Zacchaeus is beyond help.  Every reason to make some snarky, judgmental comment and walk on by.

And what does he do, faced with such an irredeemable character?

He plants a tree.  Right there in the middle of that dusty street he plants a tree that may bear fruit—someday.  He doesn’t know what will happen.  He just digs a hole, plops in the plant and hopes for the best.

Even though his world is coming to an end and even though this guy in the tree is his enemy, Jesus looks up and with a big grin in his voice says, “Zacchaeus, what are you doing up there.  Hurry down.  I’m coming to your house today.”

When the world is crumbling around him; when everything he does has to count; when there’s only time for the important stuff—Jesus reaches out, in the most unlikely direction, for friendship and community.

He reaches across the divide between him and Zacchaeus—the political divide; the religious divide; the wealth divide; the values divide; the character divide.

He reaches across because he knows—at least he hopes, that there on the other side is another human being; another beloved child of God.  As he says to everyone who was listening and doubting, “He too is a son a Abraham”.

You see, I think right then Jesus needed Zacchaeus.  He needed the welcome, the acceptance—the understanding that could only come from a redeemed child of Abraham.  He needed reason to hope that his life and his work would continue beyond the approaching end of his world.  He needed a tree, planted by the water side, that would bear fruit and give birth to new trees that would bear fruit on and on into the future.

There was no guarantee Zacchaeus could do that, of course; his record wasn’t that great.  But Jesus knew that if he didn’t at least try, if he didn’t reach across the divide, failure would be certain.

 

People who plant trees live in hope.  No one has to dig a hole and plant the twig and spread the mulch and carry the water.  But if you do, you are living in hope.  There will be failures, of course.  Some trees do not thrive.  But hope carries you along.  And hope makes possible the fruitful orchard growing up behind you.

People who plant relationships—especially in difficult, unlikely places also live in hope.  We don’t have to do it and sometimes we mess up and some relationships do not thrive.  But hope carries us along and makes possible the abundant and beloved community that grows up all around us.

My grandfather did live to sit in the shade of those two weeping willows, along with all his kids and all of us grandkids, as well.  He was so hopelessly hopeful, in fact, that by the time he died some 30 years later he had planted at least hundred more trees and sat in the shade of all of them.

When he did finally stop planting, it wasn’t because he had exhausted all hope, it was because he was all out of room.  Amen.

Sermon - Brad Brookins

April 2, 2017 - Brad Brookins
00:00 / 00:00

Bible Study

Luke 18.35-19:10

 

35 As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ 38Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 39Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 40Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, 41‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ 42Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’ 43Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God. 

19

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ 9Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

 

8 Brain Bending Spirit Enhancing challenges:

  1. The phrase “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” has been used by Christian people as a “breathing prayer” for many centuries.  Do this before you re-read the story and answer the questions below:  Sit with your eyes closed.  With each in breath pray, “Jesus, Son of David”.  With each out breath pray, “Have mercy on me”.  Continue for at least 5 minutes before returning to the story and questions.

  2. In his book On God’s Side, Jim Wallis says “the best big conservative idea is personal responsibility”.  People in poverty, for example, should never be told their situation is completely beyond their control.  Young people especially need to be told their choices matter and they need to be taught to make wise decisions and not accept their future as inevitable.  The “best big liberal idea”, he says “is social responsibility”.  We need to recognize that we live in communities, that we are in this together and that caring for those in need is the right thing to do—what Jesus wants us to do.  Wallis says these two principles do not contradict each other.  How do you see both of these “big ideas” playing out in today’s story?  

  3. Consider how Luke has constructed this account, weaving these two stories into one.  The man in Jericho wants to see Jesus but can’t because he is blind.  Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus but can’t because he is short.  They each are dealing with limitations beyond their control.  In both cases the crowds—everybody else, that is, is getting in their way.  Talk about what is going on here.  Use words like “desire”, “risk-taking”, “decision”, “response”, “responsibility”, “judgment” “generosity”, “obstruction”, “justice” and “kindness” to describe what the characters are doing and what is being done to them.

  4. Does “salvation” come to the house of Zacchaeus because he makes right his wrongs and gives away half his wealth or does he make right his wrongs and give away half his wealth because salvation comes to his house?  Justify your answer.

  5. What does “salvation” mean in this story?  Have you been "saved" in this way?

  6. Who is changed in this story and how?  What difference does the change make in their lives and to the rest of the world?

  7. Did God lead or inspire someone to plant that sycamore tree 50 some years prior to this story so Zacchaeus would have a way to see Jesus?  

  8. Why is #7 not a silly question?