— A Sermon by Robert W. Prim —
~~~ 16th Sunday after Pentecost ~~~
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.
When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.
All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, 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.”
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 out and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10; New Revised Standard Version)
For two years I played minor league ball. There were only fifteen of us on the team. The draft had been kind, and were in contention for the title. My glove was sure and my bat alive. Minor league – just waiting for the chance for the big show – the major leagues. I knew it would not be long.
I was nine years old.
The team was Suburban Pharmacy.
Dad was the coach.
Both of my years in Dixie Youth Minor League Baseball
Dad was the coach.
And both years my dad drafted Ortho.
You might, if you were blind or had missed the try-outs all together accidentally draft Ortho, but dad did it twice. I could not for the life of me figure out why dad did this. Dad was a good baseball man; he knew what it took to play good ball. He schooled us all in the fundamentals, and he developed some fine ballplayers. And yet, and yet… for two years running my father drafted Ortho to play on his, to play on our team, a team with title potential.
You all know Ortho.
He not only plays Little League Baseball,
he is in our schools,
at our place of employment,
on the boards upon which we serve,
in the PTA,
in our churches.
Not only do we know Ortho,
most likely, if you are like me,
at some time or another we have been Ortho.
Ortho is the one who just can’t get it right.
Ortho is the one who, though he tries very hard,
just isn’t cut out for the job.
Ortho is the one who doesn’t fit in.
Dad played Ortho for one or two nerve-racking innings every game – no matter how important. Ortho played right-field. One game Ortho spotted a big, leafy weed out in right field, and even though there was a batter in the box swinging, no doubt, for right field, Ortho had thrown off his glove and was busy, with his back to home plate and his knees bent low, trying to pull-up the weed. Only after a ball went streaking by did he lose interest in his landscaping. And yet, my father, the baseball man, drafted Ortho and played Ortho (and every other player on our team) one or two innings every game.
I didn’t know why then, why dad drafted Ortho and then played him in every game. I know now. Dad knew something I have come to understand – people need to be valued, seen, included. Ortho was drafted twice by Bob Prim because he wanted Ortho to know he was valued. Ortho was drafted twice and played every game because a human being’s sense of worth is more important than whether or not a minor league baseball team wins the pennant. Dad was doing more than coaching baseball; he was helping a young boy see his value as a human being. That boy couldn’t catch or throw or swing a bat very well, and he had a hard time paying attention, but he, too, is a human being and a child of God. My father taught us something during those two years of minor league, and what we learned sometimes had something to do with baseball.
Zacchaeus, hurry and come down;
for I must stay at your house today.
And everyone grumbled. He was going into the house of a sinner. They were right. Jesus was going into the house of a sinner – a sinner who, like all the rest of us, was loved and valued by God. Jesus looked at Zacchaeus with the eyes of God who longs that each one know the importance and value that God places on every human life. Jesus looked at Zacchaeus with the eyes of God who sees us all as one family – connected and united in the bond of the created order under a loving Creator. Jesus saw Zacchaeus, the wee-little man, with loving eyes.
There is a traditional Islamic story about Jesus that relates to this point.
A crowd gathered around an old scavenger dog that had just died. People were disgusted by the dog and made comments about its mangy hair, it emaciated torso, its terrible smell. When Jesus came by the crowd and looked to see what they were talking about, he said: “Pearls pale in comparison to the whiteness of his teeth.”
Zacchaeus may have been mangy, but Jesus said –
He too is a child of Abraham.
Jesus sees in us children of God –
he sees through our sinfulness,
through our shortcomings whatever those are,
through our failures whatever those have been and will be.
And he calls us to see each other in loving ways as well.
You might be saying to yourself – Oh, this is preacher talk! I cannot do that. I have a hard enough time staying close to the people I like much less those I don’t. I just cannot do it. Well, neither can I. I have failed over and over again, but my failures and your failures do not diminish the call of Christ upon our lives to look at other people with love and understanding. If we are to follow Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, we will place great value on human beings, those who are easy to love and value and those who are more difficult to cherish.
A good place for all of us to start would be at home. Wives, husbands, partners, friends, brothers, sisters, parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles…. value each other. We should begin at home working to see the real person, the child of God, who is before us at the kitchen table. Jesus calls us to see in each other children of God, lovingly created. Jesus calls us to see in each other companions on the journey. Jesus calls us to see in each other the Christ who inhabits the least of these our brothers and sisters in humanity. As we do this…see each other as children of God… things will change and for the good.
Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Look, 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.”
Zacchaeus came to see that to be a son of Abraham and Sarah was to be a blessing to others. He could not continue his dirty business deals, he could not continue his manipulation of the records; in short, he could not continue to treat others as worthless people save in their ability to line his pockets.
His value, Zacchaeus’ value, was, like all the rest of us, completely intertwined with the value of those around him. Our world was created in such a way that none of us is complete in isolation. We need each other to be who we were created to be. Zacchaeus had lived unto himself. He thought that the best way to build his future, to fulfill his life and dreams, had nothing to do with the well-being of those around him. And then guess who came to dinner? Jesus came so that Zacchaeus could see that he was a child of Abraham and Sarah among other children of Abraham and Sarah. Jesus came to show Zacchaeus and those who grumbled about Zacchaeus that we are one family interrelated by the creative and life-giving love of God.
There was once a man who was busy building a home for himself. He wanted it to be the nicest, cosiest home in the world. Someone came to him to ask for help because the world was on fire. But it was his home he was interested in, not the world. So he said he was busy. Others came to ask for help with the raging fire, but it was his home he wanted to focus on, so he said he was too busy. When he finally finished his home, he found that he did not have a planet to put it on.
Our world is interrelated. God created it this way. Injustice there has impact here. Devaluing one another now has implications later. Zacchaeus had to change his life – he was a child of Abraham and Sarah among other children of Abraham and Sarah, and thus he was called to be a blessing to all the nations
God so loved the world,
so valued the world,
so cared for the world;
God so loved Zacchaeus,
so valued Zacchaeus,
so cared for Zacchaeus;
God so loved Ortho,
so valued Ortho,
so cared for Ortho;
God so loved you and me,
so valued you and me,
so cared for you and me;
God so loved the other,
so valued the other,
so cared for the other
that God sent the Son into the world
that everyone would know
we live in one family under God.
Jesus says to us, right now… climb on down,
I must stay at your house today…