First Sinner.

Epistle: (285-ctr) – 1 Timothy 4:9-15
My son Timothy: This saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance. For this purpose, we both work hard and experience rejection, because we have placed our trust in the living God who is the Savior of all, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things.
Let no one despise your youth, but be an example for those who believe: in speech, in your way of life, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to public reading, encouragement, and teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the council of presbyters. Be attentive in these things. Give yourself to them completely, so that your progress may be manifest to all.

Gospel: (93) – Luke 18:35-43
At that time, Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. There was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, and could not because of the crowd, for he was short. He ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up, saw Zacchaeus, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house!” He hurried, came down, and received Jesus with joy. But when the people saw it, they all grumbled, saying, “He has gone in to stay with a man who is a sinner!”
Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have wrongfully obtained money from anyone, I restore 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 and to save what was lost.”

Homily 295 – 33rd Sunday after Pentecost (Zacchaeus)
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 21, 2018

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

We learn from St. Luke a couple of things about Zacchaeus. One, immortalized in children’s songs, is that Zacchaeus was short. The other, not publicized as much, is that he was rich.

Tax collectors in that era became rich because they were allowed to add on fees to the taxes they collected. For example, if you owed $100 in tax, the collector was allowed to tack on a fee for the collection and remittance of the tax.

So legally, you might be forced to pay $110 for your $100 tax bill. Even today, there are agencies in some states that will pay the tax and register your car for you for a fee – but you aren’t required to use them.

Zacchaeus had a monopoly. And, he could charge whatever he liked. One element of life under Roman rule is that while they had armies and soldiers, they didn’t have police.

Enforcement of law was very much local, and there was very little in the way of what we might know as “independent law enforcement.” Rather, one person accused another and you went before an authority.

For insurrection or riot, the army would be called. But that was pretty much it.

While it was not legal, the tax collectors did have a monopoly and they could, and did, charge whatever they liked. Maybe they charged $135 for a $100 tax bill. Maybe $200.

Whatever they could get away with without the person getting angry enough to beat them or kill them.

And thus, they could, and did, become rich.

It isn’t that different from how some of the rich have behaved throughout time, up to and including our own day.

Perhaps it is more subtle – maybe we pay wages that are not living wages. Maybe we charge for things that are necessary for life.

We don’t actually threaten someone. At least not out loud.

But having to make a choice between housing and food and medication – that isn’t really a choice.

So the thing in common is that both Zacchaeus and at least some of the rich of today is that they exploit the weak. Zacchaeus in an overt way, the rich of today perhaps more subversively.

But exploitation still.

Now, Zacchaeus wanted to see this miracle worker, reported by some to be the Messiah. In order to see Jesus he climbed up in a sycamore tree.

Partially to see Jesus, because he was short. But I imagine part of it was to be hidden as well.

To see, but avoid being seen.

The thing about being seen – being exposed – is that everyone finds out our secrets. Zacchaeus could not claim to be adherent to Jewish law like the rich young ruler. He was in a profession known for exploitation, which was perhaps the most egregious sin of the Jewish Covenant.

And Jesus exposed him. I’m sure the first reaction was mortification – Zacchaeus died inside. He was noticed. He was exposed.

Likely, the next reaction was fear – will this man Jesus condemn me publically? Will he use me as an example of who not to be? For, as St. Paul said in his letter, Zacchaeus knew he was exactly that. The First Sinner – the example by which a sinner can be defined.

But that wasn’t the response Jesus gave.

Jesus took that fear, that mortification, and accepted it. Amazingly, to everyone around especially Zacchaeus, the Messiah said to him I must dine with you today, so come down and let’s get this party started.

Jesus showed his love to Zacchaeus – even though Zacchaeus was, in the eyes of Society, completely unworthy of love.

That love which Jesus showed was powerful. Enough to cause an abject change in Zacchaeus. Change which went from his mind to his heart to his very soul. Repentance.

Zacchaeus said, if the Messiah can love me, a sinner, and show mercy on me, a sinner, then I no longer need the riches I’ve gained through dishonest means.

And he didn’t simply say, I will do better in the future, beginning now. He said, half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have wrongfully obtained money from anyone, I restore four times as much!”

The way I figure it, Zacchaeus gave away 95% of everything he owned in that statement. Even after that – he may still have been rich. But to make that kind of public statement even Jesus recognized was bold – amazing even.

So there are two things we take from this. First, we are rich – and we need to be generous as well. The reason some are rich and others are poor is to give the poor the opportunity to receive without merit, and the rich the opportunity to be generous without limit.

And second, that we also need to be merciful to those who are rich and exploit others. Just as Jesus is merciful to them.

So that Jesus will also be merciful to us, the first of sinners.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.