Date: October 30, 2016
Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church
Asheville, North Carolina
Come on Down!
This may come as surprise to you all, but I am told that when I was very young living in
New Jersey, I spoke English with a very thick Southern
Spanish accent. Now I am not quite
sure what that sounds like, but the source of my distinct sound must h
ave come in part
from my mother (
speaking to me only in S
panish) and from my babysitter,
old woman from Alabama
named Essie Mae Turner.
Essie had grown up dirt poor on a farm, and anytime she took care of my siblings and me,
she taught us how to cook homemade French fries on a skillet, how to say yes ma’am and
no sir when spoken t
o, and how to use our imaginations to escape to far off places. I
cherished my time with Essie. But perhaps the most unexpected thing that I loved, was that
she instilled in us great appreciation
for her all
time favorite show:
the Price is Right.
ssie turned on the TV we would hea
r the screams of joy as people (with bright
yellow name tags)
were called down to the stage to make their best guess on the “actual
retail price” of a toaster, or a vacuum, or a vanity set.
host, Bob Barker (
ith his thin microphone) announced, “Susan…come on
Down!!” that lucky someone would jump to their feet and sprint down to the stage. You
could feel the energy shoot out from the TV, and for all of us watching, we couldn’t help but
be overcome by this hopef
ul feeling that someone’s life was about to be transformed
I wonder how Zacchaeus felt the moment Jesus called out his name.
We know he hurried down from
We know he welcomed Jesus into his home.
But what did he feel like “the
moment” he heard his name soar up from the ground and hit
his ears through the branches?
And what compelled Zacchaeus to climb up that tree in the first place?
The text of course tells us that he was hoping to get a good look at
ut I wonder
t else prompted him to
occupy a balcony seat that day.
he felt that he needed
to separate himself
o keep away from an entire city of people who despised him
o keep even a safe distance from Jesus who he feared might judge him
It must have
been a troubling reality for Zacchaeus. He was a social outcast who benefitted
from exploiting his peers. They criticized and loathed him for it. Isolating himself high in a
tree was perhaps the only way
Zacchaeus could exist in community.
We can cer
tainly understand that urge to isolate ourselves.
In the midst of a complicated
time in our world
ul, an all
and the daily challenges in
our own lives
what it’s like to want
to skip the morning headline,
to take a
to observe the world below from an isolated perch.
We watch from a distance as new bombs are dropped in cities
and while countless
folks across our own city still yearn for a warm place to call home. We watch in solitude as
racial and religious tensions continue to mount across our nation, and as walls are being
built up in our own families.
We watch as human co
nnection (in its most basic America form) becomes something
strategic or even hazardous: playing out in our presidential candidates’ ambivalence to
We watch as people of every color and creed seem to be moving farther and
farther away from one
closing our ears to each other’s stories
strangers to ourselves.
We watch solo
from the tops of our own trees, f
rom the livin
g rooms of our private homes,
rom the securit
y of our favorite church pews.
We watch because it is s
o hard to trust in
God’s promise that if we come down we will be equipped to respond.
What sort of vulnerability and courage would
to get moving, to scramble down
and engage in it all?
Zacchaeus also lived in a complicated and divided world.
Although we paint him as this
goofy Rumpelstiltskin type who clumsily rushes up a tree, we know the he was detested. He
was a rich tax collector in cahoots with the Roman superpower
hired to extract money
from his fellow citizens
and even pocket a lit
tle for himself on the side. They considered
him to be a sell
out, a trader. In fact, maybe Zacchaeus was literally short in stature, or
maybe he was just the one who was the most looked down upon by all.
Yet the society he benefited from was the same on
e that Jesus was turning upside.
Christ should have been the last person Zacchaeus went running to find that day. What was
he hoping would happen?
Did he think that he could convince Christ to take pity on him or
pardon him for any wrongdoing?
ever he was expecting, it wasn’t what he found.
Zacchaeus thought he was looking for Jesus, but it was Jesus who was looking for him.
When Christ entered the busy square, Zacchaeus didn’t need to shout out to him, or flail his
arms, or beg for a moment
of his time. Zacchaeus said absolutely nothing
nothing. Jesus simply looked up
at this grown man in a tree
and called out to him