Sermon, Oct. 30, 2022 – Pentecost 21 – “Zacchaeus”

Who in here likes donuts?  I’d never given serious thought before to how doughnuts ended up having a hole in the middle,  but according to Bishop Douglas Fisher from The Diocese of Western Massachusetts, donuts date way back to Ireland and early Christian traditions there. 

For the Irish Christians, All Saints’ Day was a day on which prayers for all the saints were offered, and people had a feast to celebrate the day.  But many people in Ireland were too poor to put enough food on the table for their feast, and so the night before,on All Hollow’s Eve, they’d go out and knock on the doors of houses and beg for food.  As time went on, this practice evolved, and the beggars at the doors would promise to offer prayers for the dead on All Saints ‘Day in exchange for food. 

One woman wondered to herself—“Are these people I’m giving food to really remembering to pray for my dead relatives?” So she decided to start giving those who knocked on her door cakes with a hole in the middle.  The person eating the cake would get to the hole in the middle of the cake and remember to pray for the deceased. 

And so the donut was born. 

Who knows whether or not this is really how donuts came to be, but that’s a good story. 

Bishop Fisher connects this Halloween story of the donut to what happens in the story about Jesus and Zacchaeus. 

Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector, but a chief tax collector.  Zacchaeus was rich.    He had everything he needed and more than enough.  He could make as much money as he wanted at the expense of the people from whom he collected taxes.  The Roman oppressors, who ruled Palestine, hired people to collect the taxes, and in return, the tax collectors could collect whatever they wanted from the people in addition to the actual tax to pay themselves for doing their job.  So not only were the people having to pay taxes, but they were also having to pay whatever  the tax collectors demanded for themselves—talk about a corrupt system!

So certainly, Zacchaeus was not a popular person in his community by any stretch of the imagination.  

I can just hear the derisive laughter when this rich little man went racing through the streets, shedding his dignity out of his desperation to see who Jesus was,  trying to barge his way through the crowd, but I’m sure that no one in the crowd was about to let him get to the front to see anything. 

So Zacchaeus resorts to climbing a tree by the roadside (more laughter)  hoping that from that vantage point, he’ll be able to see Jesus.  The other advantage of being up in the tree is that Zacchaeus is now still, and waiting, rather than rushing and in a frenzy. 

So here comes Jesus down the road, surrounded by the crowd.  Zacchaeus holds his breath up in that tree.  Finally he is going to see this man he’s heard so much about.  Maybe he’s even mesmerized. 

Here’s what I love about this story.  Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, and he got more than he bargained for, because when Jesus saw Zacchaeus, Jesus saw more than a rich little man in a tree.

Jesus could see inside Zacchaeus. 

And what Jesus saw was that Zacchaeus had a big old hole in his heart, a hole so deep and wide that all the money in the world couldn’t fill it. 

And Jesus, being the healer that he was, did some open heart surgery to repair that hole in Zacchaeus’ heart right there on that dusty road when he said,

 “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 

What healing grace and mercy this must have been—

Jesus saw Zacchaeus. 

Jesus knew his name. 

Jesus wanted to come to his house. 

The people in the crowd did not like this—that out of all of them around Jesus that day, Jesus would welcome the loser, the despised tax collector, the unclean one, instead of one of them. 

Jesus simply says to them that he has come to seek out and save the lost.  Jesus has come to do open heart surgery, to heal hearts, to repair and fill the holes that nothing else can fill. 

St Augustine described the hole in all our hearts when he wrote this famous line in his Confessions.  “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” 

That’s the God shaped hole in our hearts, that nothing else can fill.  No matter what we try to put in that hole—money, other people, hobbies, food, our addictions– all of these things will eventually let us down—nothing will ever fill that hole in our hearts except God. 

And as Jesus makes clear in this story, God is a big believer in second chances.  Clearly, Zacchaeus was a sinner—having taken advantage of his fellow citizens for his own gain. 

It’s as if Zacchaeus is knocking on Jesus’ door, begging, and when Jesus welcomes him in, Zacchaeus, out of gratitude, says that he will give half of what he has to the poor, and to go back and repay anyone he’s defrauded four times as much as he has taken. And Zacchaeus welcomes Jesus into his house. 

And his heart is healed and filled with the only thing that can satisfy his longing—his heart is filled with Jesus. 

The first verse of that old gospel hymn, “I love to tell the story” whose words were written by Katherine Hankey,  goes like this. 

“ I love to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and His glory Of Jesus and his love, I love to tell the story, because I know it’s true, it satisfies my longings as nothing else would do.” 

So here is what I hope you’ll remember about this story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. 

Not a one of us is perfect.  We all need healing.  We all need second chances.  Jesus  sees us, full of hurt, full of holes, full of longing.  We all need open heart surgery.  

Zacchaeus reminds us to go in haste,  to climb up a tree if we must and  to  get still and wait for Jesus, because Jesus is coming down the road toward us, his hands full of healing love, ready to give us what we need—his acceptance, and his presence in our hearts. 

If we’re looking and waiting, Jesus will see us.  Jesus knows our names, and Jesus wants to come home with us today.  Jesus wants to fill that hole in our hearts.  Jesus wants to give us a second chance. 

And in gratitude for all that Jesus gives to us, may we go out and do likewise for one another—to accept one another, to fill one another with God’s love, and offer that second chance for those who have wronged us. 

Next time you eat a donut, remember Zacchaeus. 

Remember to pray for someone who needs your prayers when you get to the donut hole. 

And remember to pray that God will come and fill the hole in your heart. 

 

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