LOVE LEADS TO CHANGE
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON October 31st 2010
Luke 19:10 “The Son of man came to seek and save the lost.”
When I first looked at this gospel, my immediate thought was, “Not sin again!” The story of Zacchaeus is one of the most instructive stories in the whole of the New Testament. I take heart from its wonderful conclusion, when Jesus says: “Today, salvation is come to this house………for the Son of man came to seek and save the lost.”
That is certainly the culmination of any story about sin and sinners. It is the whole point of our Lord’s life and ministry. It is the Gospel for Christians.
“The Son of man came to seek and save the lost.” Not only is this the purpose of our Lord’s earthly life, it is still a present reality.
This week, I received a letter from a woman that I’ve known for most of my life as a priest. She likes to get my sermons and the parish magazine in the mail, and keeping up with what’s going on at All Saints’. In her letter, she commented on my sermon about sin from six weeks ago. She wrote, “I think the answer to sin is that Jesus waits for us on the altar.”
Yes – the Son of man waits for us, because he still comes to seek and save the lost. He comes to save, despite our unworthiness.
But what about the consequences of sin, particularly in our personal lives? When reflecting on the times that I’ve sinned, that they can be described as, perhaps, like a wasteland. If we reflect on the wastelands in our lives, we should have in mind the words of Psalm 107: “He turns the desert into pools of water, parched land into springs of water.”
The storyof Zacchaeus is the story of the wastelands of his life turning into springs of water. It is the story of the consequences of sin, and the consequences of forgiveness.
That is why it leads to Our Blessed Lord saying, “The Son of man came to seek and save the lost.”
This gospel from Luke 19, like last Sunday’s from Luke 18, refers to a tax collector. Last week a tax collector went to the temple to pray, and he approached God in humility. He was aware that he was a sinner. “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” was his plea. Jesus tells us that he went home justified, unlike the judgmental and self-righteous Pharisee standing next to him. It would not have been lost on those listening to that parable that a tax collector was a despised outcast in the Jewish community.
In today’s incident, Jesus shows that he reaches out to those who are despised. This story of Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector, is interesting. He is intrigued by Jesus, but he’s short, and so he climbs a tree to see him. Imagine this rich man, in all his fine robes, climbing up a tree to see Jesus. He is risking contempt and ridicule from the crowd, who already hate him.
When Jesus sees Zacchaeus in the tree, he doesn’t say, “Well done my good man for getting up the tree” or “Turn from your ways, you sinner.” No – Jesus says, “Come down, for I must stay at your house today.”
This was an extraordinary thing to say, which is revealed by the reaction of the crowd: “He is gone to be a guest of a man who is a sinner.”
There are other occasions when Jesus ate in the homes of tax collectors, sinners, and all sorts of people that were judged. And he was criticized for it.
Consider the context of sharing a meal. For us, a dinner party, either elaborate or humble, is an occasion of joy and sharing. The people we invite are people we want to share our lives with. Perhaps, it’s a special occasion, like a birthday or Thanksgiving.
For Christians, special meals mark the great festivals – like Christmas and Easter. But even a simple family BBQ is an occasion for sharing our lives and our hopes. A time of bonding and sharing in affection and love. For Christians, a meal is a time of grace – a sacrament, almost
Because a meal is so symbolic to Christians, we can understand why it was shocking for Jesus to dine with a tax collector. The tax collectors were the despised agents of the hated Romans. It wasn’t that they just collected taxes for the oppressor; they often demanded more than was required. They often sold their rights to friends and relatives. It was extortion. The whole system was, what we would call, daylight robbery. That is why they were rich, and why they were ostracized.
It was bad enough that Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus, but it was intolerable that he would dine with him. In essence, by dining with Zacchaeus, Jesus was bonding with this rich, despised, tax collector. This virtually made him impure in the eyes of the Pharisees. This is why the scribes and Pharisees would have nothing to do with the company that Jesus kept – and they criticized him for it. “This man eats with tax collects and sinners,” they said. They wanted to stay holy and apart from those people.
They had forgotten something important. The scribes and the Pharisees had forgotten that, with the exception of Our Lord, all of us are inclined to sin. Some sins are obvious, like murder. Some are not so obvious, like the love of money or being judgmental.
As scripture says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
As well as forgetting that, the scribes and the Pharisees had forgotten that every single soul is important to God, and loved by him. Every human being is loved by Jesus, and is supremely important to God. That is what the story of Zacchaeus tells us.
Jesus’ acceptance of Zacchaeus resulted in a complete turn around of his life. Conversion and repentance we call it.
So Jesus concludes: “The Son of man came to seek and save the lost.”
The final thing this story tells us is that love leads to change. Not the other way around.
Love leads to change. That is what happened to Zacchaeus.