Hole, William, 1846-1917. Christ Speaks to Zacchaeus, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57184 [retrieved October 27, 2022]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hole_zachaeus_in_tree.gif.

RCL Year C, Proper 26 (Alternate Readings)
Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32:1-8, II Thessalonians 1:1-4 and 11-12, Saint Luke 19:1-10

Isaiah’s view about sacrifices, burnt offerings, and appointed festivals could not be clearer. Speaking prophetically for God, Isaiah declares: “bringing offerings is futile…appointed festivals my soul hates.”[1] But even with this, Isaiah does not absolutely disparage sacrifice and festivals. God through Isaiah rules out sacrifice unaccompanied with obedience of heart and life. “Cease to do evil, learn to do good”[2] before sacrifices, burnt offerings, and festivals, and “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow.”[3] And it is this view that runs through the story of Zacchaeus.

There are two features in the Gospel today that I want to emphasize. The first is that Zacchaeus is a real sinner who truly repents. He is not a dabbler in sin; he wallows in it. He is a chief tax collector who is rich. And he truly repents. Just as Isaiah lays it out, Zacchaeus changes his heart and his life before making his sacrifices. His sacrifices are the seal, the sacramental sign, of his newly obedient heart and life. And his sacrifices are sacrificial: one-half of his possessions go to the poor, and he repays his frauds four-fold. If he sins as much as it appears, sacrifices and restitutions on this scale may vacate his balance sheet. He may, like the widow with two mites, be giving all he has. His is true repentance.

The second feature I want to emphasize is that Jesus meets him exactly where he is. Jesus is like that. He prowls around hungrily looking for sinners. Jesus may take advantage of the sinner’s conscience; Jesus may lurk behind the opportunity to correct a misdeed given by providential circumstance or by a charitable person who already knows Jesus. But prowl he does. His pursuit of sinners, when he presents himself to them, eases repentance.

And so it is with Zacchaeus. Up in the sycamore tree, Jesus stares at him, tells him to come down, and invites himself into Zacchaeus’ hospitality. The table is set for Zacchaeus to repent. Jesus impinges not upon his will. Zacchaeus with his free will intact, having been found out by the Lord, chooses salvation. Everything in his life has prepared this moment. And Zacchaeus makes the choice of his lifetime. He chooses to get it right. He chooses salvation which Jesus has made sure is ready for him to take.

Whatever sins anyone has committed, whatever tree any sinner is up, whatever restitution needs to be made, salvation is just as close as Zacchaeus finds it. Salvation may fill the next breath one takes. The table has been set. Salvation is right there to be accepted.

[1] Isaiah 1:11-14.

[2] Isaiah 1:16-17.

[3] Isaiah 1:18.