Smile & Wave – Luke 19:1-10

No audio recording this week, sorry!

In just a few verses in this passage Luke paints a vivid picture of Jesus travelling through Jericho; people crowding in around him, perhaps putting their children on their shoulders and jostling with each other where the streets get narrow, so much so that poor – or actually rich – but very short Zacchaeus must run ahead and climb a tree – yes, its undignified, but it’s necessary – so he, the text says, ‘can see who Jesus was’, so he can ‘see him’.

Can you think of a time when you have lined a street for hours or searched for the best vantage spot to watch something or to see someone go by?

When I was sixteen (on that same trip as that not very cruisy cruise ship I mentioned a few weeks ago) my family visited London and stayed with a family who had been missionaries who offered accommodation to other missionaries. It was June and the Trooping the Colour was on, so we went very early with our hosts and waited along the route to Buckingham Palace. I remember the Queen’s guards with those incredible hats, standing for hours it seemed, without moving a muscle, and the lines of police looking into the crowd. (A little more relaxed than they might be today for when the youngest son of our host family kicked a ball onto the parade ground, the bobby in front of us just picked it up and handed it back.)

Much more low-key was the evening I took my children to see the Queen drive down to Government House during her October 2011 visit. We simply parked the car in Yarralumla and walked through the reserve to Dunrossil Drive. Someone handed us flags to wave and after waiting half an hour or so the royal cavalcade appeared and just as quickly, disappeared. Thanks to the tinted windows that’s the best view of the queen that we got.

But that’s how a parade works isn’t it? You just smile and wave. They just smile and wave. They go on their way and you go on yours. Jesus continues onto Jerusalem and Zacchaeus, having for a few moments been part of all the excitement, goes back to his duties as chief tax collector in Jericho.

Except…that’s not what happens! Jesus stops. He looks up and looks at Zacchaeus. He calls Zacchaeus by name and speaks to him. Jesus brings the whole parade to a screeching halt.

It’s shocking. It’s like those moments in the theatre when the actors break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience. It’s like the Queen ordering her car to stop, there on Dunrossil Drive, winding down her window and calling out, “Belinda, hurry home because I must stay at your house today.” And the crowd here in Luke are also shocked. Shocked because this is Jesus and this man is a tax collector, someone who works with the Romans, who works for the Romans, who works in an industry known for greed and corruption. So shocked, we’re told, that universally they begin to grumble, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” But Zacchaeus, too, I think, is shocked. All he had wanted was to see who Jesus was, to see him. Not to have Jesus see who he was…

I am reminded of a friend, Tim, who was in the Sydney CBD many years ago during a papal visit. He’d been shopping in Myer (or Grace Brothers it was then) before all the renovations were done on that building, when it still had a few odd entrances that few people used, and he popped out of one of these onto a completely deserted Market Street. As this was dawning on him, he realised there were police cordons at each end of the street, and at that moment the pope mobile came ‘round the corner and Tim being one person standing there on the street, the pope smiled and waved at Tim. Not the other way around!

But Jesus does more than smile and wave. As I mentioned earlier, he looks up and sees Zacchaeus and says to him, verse 5, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

“Hurry!” The language here indicates that this is not a chance encounter. The same Greek word is used in Luke 2 to describe the shepherds’ haste, having heard from the angels, to find the baby Jesus in the manger. And, “For I must stay”, the language of necessity, indicates that this encounter, Jesus meeting Zacchaeus and inviting himself to Zacchaeus’s house, is not a deviation from the parade schedule, but an integral part of Jesus’ kingdom mission; an elemental expression of God’s desire to know and be known by every one of us; of God’s love for every single one of us.

So perhaps this gospel story reminds me less of Tim’s encounter with the pope and more of other encounters…of my own encounter with God, aged eight, whose call on my life I realised could not be filtered through my parents, but came to me directly, or in my early 20’s, at a beach mission training weekend, suddenly knowing, deep within myself, that God was the ground of my being…and in years of finding my footing on that ground ever since.

Or perhaps this gospel story reminds you of similar encounters in your life. Of an altar call or a significant conversation with a significant person or a word that suddenly leapt from the pages of Scripture – God speaking unambiguously to you – or a time of prayer that changed your life or a dramatic experience or something that just rose up quietly and steadily and compelling within you until its truth for your life could not be denied.

Perhaps – if you stop and look up – that moment might be right around the corner.

But I want to say two things about that moment, that encounter with Jesus.

Firstly, it changes your life. It gradually changes the whole of your life.

There’s some debate about the verbs in verse eight of this passage. The NRSV has Zacchaeus saying, “…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.” But others point out that these words, in Greek, are in the present tense, describing perhaps how Zacchaeus already conducts business and opening the passage to some interesting alternate readings.

But my understanding, in keeping I think with Luke’s emphasis on the wholistic nature of salvation, is that the tense here implies ongoing action and change. Life change. The salvation that comes to Zacchaeus’ house is not about one act of restitution. It’s not even just about eternal life but encompasses peace and healing and conversion and restoration and justice and behavioural change.

I think I have told you before about the words inside the front cover of my grandfather’s Bible, my father’s father, which has two dates and two simple lines. Under one date it reads, “The day I became a Christian.” And under the second it reads, “The day I started doing something about it.” Sometimes it takes a while and perhaps it takes a lifetime, but encountering Jesus gradually changes the whole of your life.

As this poem by Geoffrey Rust puts it…

A poem that describes not only how it might be to welcome Jesus to our house, but to live in the light of that fellowship; to welcome Jesus into our lives.

But the second thing I have to say about that encounter with Jesus is that it is not predicated by the first. It is not predicated by that behavioural change, that gradual transformation, that I described. Jesus does not wait for Zacchaeus to finish giving away his possessions or giving back the money he has defrauded before he just comes to Zacchaeus’ house. He just turns up.

And the same is true in our lives. Jesus just turns up. He’s there on the doorstep. He invites himself in. He makes himself at home. As Romans chapter 5 tells us, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners…” Christ came to be with us and die for us and live with us forever.

“Hurry!” Jesus says, “I must stay at your house today…because I love you. I cannot stay away. I stand at the door and knock.”

Which is why when we gather at this table reminiscent of so many other tables where people have gathered in Jesus’ name or gathered, as in Zacchaeus’ house that day, with Jesus present, we often say these words.

This is the table not of the church, but of the Lord.

It is made ready for those who love him and want to love him more

So, come…

You who have much faith and you have little.

You who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time.

You who have tried to follow and you who have failed.

Come. Because our Lord invites us to meet him here.