A young boy was in a serious auto accident and his survival was very much in doubt. After a few days his school teacher went to visit him in the hospital. She was horrified at what she saw: his entire body was covered with terrible burns and he was in serious pain. She wanted to run out of the room, but instead she drew closer to his bed and said, “Tommy, I've come here to teach you about nouns and verbs. That's what your classmates are studying this week and we don't want you to fall behind.”
The next afternoon when the teacher returned, the attending nurse quietly took her aside and inquired, “What did you say to that boy yesterday?” The teacher was alarmed; but before she could respond, the nurse continued, “Our entire nursing staff has been so worried about him, but ever since your visit yesterday, his whole attitude changed. It's as though he decided he wanted to live!”
Some time afterward, the boy admitted that he had given up on living but his teacher's visit had changed that. “After all,” he insisted, “They wouldn't send my teacher for me to learn nouns and verbs if I was going to die, would they?” Those teacher visits gave him hope so he began to hope in himself.
That's precisely what Jesus does for Zacchaeus in Luke's Gospel this morning. In the town of Jericho, Zacchaeus was a very wealthy tax collector who made his money by “putting the tax squeeze” on people who were already poor and had no political power. Of course, Zacchaeus would take a big cut of the tax for his profit before passing the rest on to the Roman and Hebrew authorities. Zacchaeus was in some ways not a nice guy!
But Zacchaeus had one thing in his favor: he really wanted to see Jesus! It was important to him. Perhaps it was a special grace God gave him. Small in stature, he climbed up that sycamore tree to get a good look when Jesus came his way. When Jesus saw him sitting in that tree, he saw a man other people in town did not see. Jesus saw past his cheating and scheming. He saw a man with great potential for good, a man ready to turn his life around, so he invited himself to Zacchaeus' home. The two may have shook hands and then engaged in conversation as they walked together to the tax collector's house. This encounter changed Zacchaeus' heart. He immediately vowed to renounce his evil deeds and make things right with the people he'd cheated.
Life certainly can wear us down over time, and never more thoroughly than when we think only of our mistakes and faults. By doing so, we often forget the good things we've done in life. Yes, Jesus knows our mistakes and failings full well; but he also knows the huge reservoir of good that's deep within each of us. This gives us the hope to change what needs changing and face courageously the remaining days of our lives . AMEN!