Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When 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." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." Zacchaeus 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." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
Climb that Tree
Related Hymns (with links)
(Ref. 1982 Episcopal Hymnal)
Sermon given October 30, 2016 by The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida
"Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
and a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see.
And when the Savior passed that way he looked up and said,
'Zacchaeus, You come down, For I'm going to your house today!
For I'm going to your house today!
Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
But a happy man was he,
For he had seen the Lord that day
And a happy man was he;
And a very happy man was he.”
This is the Children’s song that my children heard when attending a community Bible study, long ago. Oh how they joyfully sang this song about a wee-little man, so happy was he. This “wee little man” however, was not happy. He made his living off the real little people, collecting what they owed in taxes by an imperial, occupying Roman government.
How can someone who makes his success off the misery and indebtedness of others be so happy? Tolerated, even respected by some as one who at least has a steady employment, he knew his success hinged on those who could not repay their debts in society.
A 1935 film titled “The Third Floor Back” starring Conrad Veight, Anna Lee, Renee Ray and Frank Cellier is reminiscent of the Gospel account of Zacchaeus. In a run-down London boarding house the residents clung to their precarious social positions with only one figure, Mr. Wright, who was truly successful and powerful. All the others lived in snobbish and rude existence trying to protect what little they really had. Major Tomkins and his wife, knowing Mr. Wright could be a good provider for them through marriage tried their best to force their daughter Vivian to marry him. She of course was horrified by this and was afraid. Stasia, a servant of a snobbish couple was someone she confided in, but of course was unable to help. Everyone talked about who had what and the sad state of the country.
All of this was going on, when one day a stranger, a “wee little man” came to town. He lived in the back of the third floor and was mostly quiet while watching all of these interactions going on. In an effort to change for the good, he decided they all needed a new perspective so he invited them to go on a river boat ride. Everyone was reluctant, declaring the weather was not suitable, some were unsure of what one wears on a boat ride, but eventually they accepted the invitation. Half-way down the Thames, the servant girl, Stasia falls overboard and one of the women jumps over and saves her. Realizing a life was nearly lost, the Tomkins look after her and care for her. This behavior becomes contagious when they all return as everyone takes into account that they are better when they look after each other rather than be rude and divisive. Seems like everything is going well until Mr. Wright corners the stranger and accuses him of disrupting what they had. He feels he is losing power within a community that he had received prominence and he convinces the residents to return to their usual unhappy selves. It becomes a debate between the stranger’s goodness and Mr. Wright’s evil.
We can see the author of the original book to which this drama was cast, portrayed the stranger as a Christ-like figure; one who was travelling through a miserable, unhappy community of people who could not rise above their circumstances. Jesus finds this same scene in the city of Jericho. It used to be a glorious town and everyone was successful but now it had become a run-down place where people were so preoccupied with themselves, they failed to look at others. Then, there was Mr. Wright, Zacchaeus, and a wee-little man was he. He lived in the midst of this and had everything. People grumbled over his success from being the servant of Rome; collecting the Emperor’s tax Although he had all of this wealth, he didn’t feel right inside. He was seen as the establishment. On the day that Jesus came to town, the crowd was so thick he couldn’t get above them or through them. He looked up and there was this tall sycamore tree, so he climbed it to get a glimpse of the visiting rabbi. He felt insignificant, yet powerful. He felt unnoticed, yet respected; weird. He just went to see Jesus.
As everyone watched Jesus move through town, they called out to him to be the one to lead them out of Rome’s hold. He looked out to see if someone was there who believed he was there for the right reasons. He saw Zacchaeus above all the others. “How can Jesus recognize him, of all people! He is a great sinner, who has taken from us!” Yet, Jesus takes someone who felt small and worthless is redeemed. Jesus knows everything you’re going through and sometimes we can’t see through and we just need to climb up a tree to get a better look. Jesus is calling out to us today. He is telling you he is coming to your house today. Zacchaeus is unique because he allows Jesus to come in. Not everyone does this.
Let’s take a true inventory of the people we have hurt. Maybe we don’t realize it. Maybe we get so caught up in our own pity, loneliness and depression that we do not hear Jesus’ voice. We need to sing out like the children; we need to be like Zacchaeus and we need to call upon Jesus, no matter how small or insignificant we may feel.
Remember Zacchaeus was a wee-little man, and a wee-little man was he; and we may need to climb to the top of that sycamore tree because when we earnestly call out his name, it is we, who he wants to see.
 Jerome K. Jerome,
 Luke 19:1-10