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How Wide is Our Forgiveness?

The Rev. Bob Pierson

Scripture: Luke 19:1-10



Sometimes when I read the Sunday gospel, my mind shifts into movie mode, and I find myself thinking about how I would direct a movie of the story. With the story of Zaccheus in the sycamore tree, I imagine myself looking up to see a small man, like Danny DeVito, standing on a branch, straining to see Jesus as he walks along.


We know from the story that Zaccheus is a “chief tax collector” and that he is rich. Tax collectors were hated by the Jewish people because they were Jews working for the Romans, collecting money for the empire. And because tax collectors had to earn their own living through what they collected, they were known to be extortionists, who forced people to pay more than was actually owed to Rome so the tax collector could live off the rest. Zaccheus was rich, meaning he was a very good extortionist. We can assume he was hated by the people.


Zaccheus climbs the tree so he can see who Jesus was. Supposedly, they had never met, and yet when Jesus saw the little man in the tree, he knew it was Zaccheus. How did Jesus know Zaccheus? Was Zaccheus’ reputation that bad? Perhaps. But as notorious as Zaccheus was, Jesus did something unthinkable in the minds of the Jewish crowd. He invites himself to supper at Zaccheus’ house! How dare he? He knows who this is, and we’re told “all the people grumble.


Jesus’ friendliness to Zaccheus had a profound impact on Zaccheus. He immediately offered to give half of his wealth to the poor, and offered to repay anyone he had cheated with four times the amount. Jesus’ compassion changed Zaccheus’ life, and recognizing that change, Jesus calls him “a son of Abraham,” reminding the people that he is really one of them, too, and no longer an enemy.


I assume that the next scene of our movie would take place at the home of Zaccheus, but that part of the script has yet to be written. How we would write it would depend on who we identify with in the story. We might tell it from the perspective of Zaccheus, and emphasize his gratitude to Jesus for allowing him to come back into the fold. We might tell it from the viewpoint of Jesus, who “came to seek out and to save the lost.” Or we might tell it from the perspective of the crowd. Would they be happy for Zaccheus, or would they be angry that he received mercy from Jesus?


I will let you answer that question for yourselves, but keep in mind that your answer says more about your attitude toward forgiveness than it does about that Jewish crowd.


I think if Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy were writing the scene in Zaccheus’ house, with the Thessalonians in mind, they would have the crowd celebrating with Zaccheus because of their “faith” and “love of everyone.” Paul and his friends would commend the people for their change of heart toward Zaccheus, praying that God would make them all “worthy of his call” “so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified” by everyone in the movie. It would be a happy ending for everyone, and I always love a happy ending.

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