Meditation on Luke 19:1-10
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton, OH
Nov. 3, 2019
All Saints’ Sunday
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 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.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 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.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
It was a beautiful day. I was traveling to First Presbyterian Church in Cambridge on Wednesday for a special gathering of pastors in our presbytery, when I remembered the words of my husband, Jim. He said, “Don’t use the GPS.” And I said, “I won’t.” And then I did, anyway. I didn’t trust myself to find my way to Cambridge, a place I had never been before. Pretty soon, I realized that I was being led to take Route 541 all the way to I-77 South. And, in the famous words of Yogi Berra, it was “déjà vu all over again.” This was the same narrow, windy, hilly route the GPS had led us when Jim and I and Jacob, our cat Melvyn and dog Mabel, exhausted from 2 days of driving and weeks of packing and saying goodbyes, arrived in a 3-car caravan in the dark of night, cold of winter, deer peering at us from both sides of the road. But it wasn’t night, this time. Wasn’t cold. And I wasn’t tired or feeling rushed.
And I thought to myself, “If people in my church can drive this road all the time, I can learn to drive this road, too.” Of course, I didn’t meet but a couple of vehicles the entire way. One was a slow-moving tractor that I cautiously passed. Another was a large pickup truck that passed me going about 80 in a 45. Funny thing was that Elton John’s “Rocket Man!” was playing on the radio. God has a sense of humor! Amen?
As I drove this windy, hilly way, instead of the better road that Jim would have me take—and that I would choose on my way home, I thought of other journeys taken by saints who lived and loved among us. And I gave thanks to God for all the saints, the cloud of witnesses that surrounds us, still, and whose stories continue to inspire us to keep on running the race of faith.
I thought of Ivy Catrow, whose life we celebrated in October. She was a former Land Girl in England who labored to grow food to feed her country during WWII. She left home and all that was familiar and traveled on the ocean liner RMS Queen Elizabeth in November 1946. In New York City, she was directed to a train that took her to Pittsburgh. That’s where her fiance, George Catrow, who hadn’t laid eyes on her in a year, but had written love letters to her every other day, picked her up in his car and brought her to Coshocton. The Reverend Kiskaddon married them 10 days later in the parsonage. And she lived 73 more years of adventures and joy, loving the Lord, her family and her church, persevering in times of suffering. Then, four days after her 96th birthday, she traveled yet another journey, entering into the joy that Christ has prepared, hearing the words she longed to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done!”
I got to thinking, what if she hadn’t risked leaving kin and country? Her life would have been different. We would be different, too! We are better because of all the saints—all of you!—who continue to gather to worship and grow in faith and friendship, welcoming one another, loving one another, demonstrating the hospitality of our Lord.
I thought of Ivy and all the saints—the Body of Christ in every age, living courageously, led and fed by the Spirit, choosing to follow Christ on the narrow, less traveled path of humble servanthood, laboring with love and compassion, kindness and generosity, building relationships rather than accumulating wealth and things on the wider, more traveled path of this world.
As I drove on, taking my very own fall foliage tour, I remembered Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.”
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Zaccheaus has choices to make the day that Jesus is passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. The rich tax collector, described as short in stature, in Luke 19 decides to risk making a spectacle of himself by running and climbing a tree because he wants to see Jesus. Scholars say that his stature may have more to do with his profession than his actual height. The crowd may have shunned or barricaded him because of what he did for a living. Jesus could have chosen anyone that day to single out and bless with his presence in their home. He chose no one in the crowd of decent, religious people. He chooses, instead, the one who is marginalized and despised by the crowd of decent, religious people. The tax collector is, like the one in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14, the example of faith and humility—having the right attitude before God. Zacchaeus’ wealth doesn’t prevent him from pursuing Jesus and entering the kingdom of God. He has a change of heart and obeys the Lord. Compare this to the account of the rich ruler in Luke 18:18-25, who is moved to sadness but doesn’t obey when Jesus tells him the way to inherit eternal life is to sell all that he has and give the money to the poor, building his treasure in heaven. Then, “Come,” he says. “Follow me.”
Jesus doesn’t wait for an invitation from Zacchaeus, for he knows his heart’s desire is to be with him. The Lord knows our hearts, too! And he calls us by name to leave our places of comfort and privacy to profess and demonstrate our faith. “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”
The tax collector immediately obeys and bears spiritual fruit; he welcomes Christ eagerly, ready to give up a life of wealth and accumulation. He is filled with joy, “happy” to give half of his possessions to the poor—not the tithe of 10 percent of the increase. He is anxious to right the wrongs that he has done. “If I have defrauded anyone of anything,” he vows, “I will pay back four times as much.”
Salvation has come to the house of one who lives as a son of Abraham and doesn’t just claim God’s favor because of his family tree.
Has salvation visited your home? Have you allowed Christ to stay, dwell in your heart, and change your life? Today is the day to choose the narrow, less traveled path. A road you may not have taken before. We won’t find peace in the pursuit of wealth, accumulation and self-gratification. Only knowing Christ and laboring with him in ministries of compassion will satisfy the longing in our hearts and relieve us from the heavy burdens we try to carry on our own. Our Lord offers hope and healing for the wounded and brokenhearted, order and calm amidst your chaos, help and strength in times of sorrow, sickness, loneliness, and loss.
Don’t be tempted to follow the crowd of seemingly religious people, who want to exclude, rather than embrace, all people as God’s beloved children. That’s what the crowd did to Zacchaeus that day our Lord passed through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. May we all be freed to show the radical hospitality of Christ to all people. Let us join with the Son of Man in His labor of love—to seek and save the lost. May we faithfully serve the one whose choice of friends stirred the crowd to grumble, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
Some of you are wondering how you will live without your loved one. Your grief is fresh. Some of you have been grieving a long time, feeling broken and longing to be healed and made whole. God knows your pain! God loves you! Christ is with you in your suffering. I am missing my dad, wondering how we will get through our first Thanksgiving and Christmas without him. It will be hard.
But Christ tells us not to worry about tomorrow! And he’s not just talking about material blessings; he is talking about provision for heart, mind, body, and soul. The Lord offers new mercies every morning, daily manna in our wilderness, nourishment to eternal life. Christ has promised, in His Word, to come again and take us to Himself so that where He is, we will be also. He is preparing a place for us in our heavenly home—with all the saints! One day, when we finish the good works that God has ordained, labors of love in this age, Christ will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Well done.”
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for all the saints, all of our loved ones—those with us now and those we mourn as they are no longer with us. Thank you for calling us each by name. Reassure us, Lord, of your love for all your children and your good plans for us. Lead us to acts of radical hospitality, walking in Christ’s loving ways. Thank you for the promise of salvation by faith in Christ’s work on the cross and for Your Son’s preparing a place for each one us, with all the saints. Help us to feel you with us now and always; grant us strength and courage, help and healing, as we seek to obey your will and serve with you in labors of love. In Christ we pray. Amen.