Sunday morning in the sanctuary services our Lenten series continues as we turn to a classic and beloved story—that of Zacchaeus and his encounter with Jesus in the gospel of Luke. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector in the very wealthy area of Jericho.
As a tax collector, he is part of the oppressive, corrupt Roman system of taxation. A tax collector bid for the job. Once a tax collector had the position, he was bound to pay an agreed-upon amount to the Roman Empire. However, he could charge as much as he could get out of the people and keep the difference. He had the authority and military power of the occupying forces of Rome to use as a big stick to threaten anyone who would defy his collection efforts.
So, as a tax collector Zacchaeus is seen as a traitor who had sold out to Rome and he is a hated man. The description of Zacchaeus speaks volumes when it says that he is “a tax collector and rich.” He was, to use Frederick Buechner’s words, “a sawed-off little social disaster with a big bank account and a crooked job…” (Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who [New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1979], p. 180)
But that isn’t the end of the story for Zacchaeus. Rather, the story of his life takes a sudden turn, and it happens at a table — the table in his own home. It is a table at which he had sat more times than he could possibly count.
We don’t know this, but being a human being and knowing how we are, you can imagine that he sat at his usual place for every meal. Since he was rich, it was probably a formal tale, a triclinium table, the kind used for banquets and important meals. It was the kind of table where Jesus spread a feast for his disciples on the very night in which he gave himself up for us. Zacchaeus almost certainly sat at the place of honor. It was his “spot,” his place at the table.
When he climbed up in the tree to see Jesus and Jesus invited himself to dinner, I wonder where Zacchaeus sat? Did he give the place of honor to Jesus? I wonder. What we do know is that he moved over and gave the place of honor to Jesus in the way that he chose to live his life after that meal of grace and new beginnings.
This Sunday we — humans all with a propensity to grab for ourselves — will hear again an invitation to the table. When we leave the table and “go out to be God’s people in the world,” who will occupy the seat of honor in our lives?
I invite you to read Zacchaeus’ story this week as you prepare for worship on Sunday. Where do you see yourself in it?
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!
Grace and Peace,