The old song goes. Zacchaeus was a wee little man, And a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree For the Lord he wanted to see. We all know the rest of the story. Zaccheus was a terrible person and a chief tax collector and Jesus saw him, showed an interest in him and went to his home to eat with him, so Zaccheus, having experienced this, repents, changes his ways and pays people back. We hear this passage with certainty that goes back beyond nursery school for us. This reminds me of one of my favorite moments in the movie, Independence Day. After the powers that be tell his son to butt out, Judd Hirsch’s character is giving the President and his staff the what for for not preparing for an alien invasion since they had the spaceship recovered in Roswell back in the fifties. Hirsch’s own son, played by Jeff Goldbloom, even rolls his eyes. The President condescendingly places his arm around him and explains, “Sir, regardless of what you may have read in the tabloids, there have never been any spacecraft recovered by our government. Take my word for it, there’s no area 51. There’s no recovered spaceship.” Minister of Defense, “Excuse me Mr. President, that’s not entirely accurate.” As the president, Bill Pullman pulls off a fantastic turn around, “you’ve got to be kidding me look” and Jeff Goldbloom a great, “Wuwhat? Which part?” Now the Zaccheus story is not the Area 51, blow the lid off of a conspiracy, there really are aliens sort of reveal, but what we’ve grown up hearing is, “not entirely accurate” and I am sure your response is, “Wuwhat? Which part?” Once again this comes down to what was originally written in Greek and all of that stuff that your middle school or high school English teacher told you was important. There’s two things with this passage. One is interesting and the other is interesting and consequential. Let’s start with the “wee little man”. This one is based on an assumption and it tells us something about our human bias. In the original Greek we know that someone was short in stature, but there is no way to determine if it was Zaccheus or Jesus. There may have been a taller crowd around Jesus, so to clearly see him, you would have to get up higher, or maybe Zaccheus was just not very tall. I can imagine some sort of feeling of Sacrilege for calling Jesus short, so it has to be the other guy, right? Not necessarily. We see and do the same thing judging artistic drawings or paintings or computer models of what Jesus may have looked like. Physical attributes do not equal holiness or righteousness or sacrilege or sinfulness. So the result, by what is written, leaves us with an unknown, which is actually pretty cool. The second translation problem is interesting and a little more problematic. When I had my first read through, all the old story books and Sunday school, and vacation bible school things that I had learned immediately clouded my vision. I had the “I already know what this says” problem. I immediately seized on a great theological point. “Zaccheus receives grace and it changes his life and through thankfulness the Spirit propels him to good works.” I mean that is a great Reformation day point right? But there’s a problem. If I am going to honor what the reformation stood for, then I have to take scripture, that is what it actually says seriously. At the beginning I said that we all know that “Zaccheus was a terrible person and a chief tax collector”. We hear “tax collector” in the Bible and we join all the people that surrounded them in assessing them as sinful and this guy was the chief tax collector. I think Luke is telling us this on purpose, I mean we’ve heard “he eats with tax collectors and sinners combined a lot right? And the people in the story are calling him a sinner. Well Jesus sees a chief tax collector and is going to eat with him and really gets the people grumbling. But something is missing here. If Zaccheus is such a sinner, a chief one at that, where is an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, or confession, or atonement, or forgiveness? They are missing and the verb tense is wrong. Zaccheus does not say, “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.” He seems to actually be defending himself against the assumptions made against him in the midst of the grumbling. The future tense is not used here. What he actually says is, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I pay back four times as much.” His reply is still one of thankfulness and it lets us know that the assumptions made about him were unfair. He says that he gives half of his wealth to the poor. That’s four times more than a tithe by my calculation. And he says that whenever he has made a mistake he pays it back fourfold. The law stated that if you defrauded or took something that didn’t belong to you, even by mistake you were to pay it back plus twenty percent, and here it is this supposed sinner has been doing 400%. This is not, in any way, excusing Jesus and making it look like he did not eat and fellowship with and love sinners, because we see him doing that over and over, but it is only fair to Zaccheus to point out his righteousness as to the law. Zaccheus would know, despite what the community thought of him, his actual keeping of the law. And Zaccheus is, as Jeremiah put it in the first lesson, not just offering sacrifices and festivals but has learned to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Zaccheus is going well above and beyond. He has been continuing in the word as Jesus said, but Zaccheus seems to know that there is something more. The people don’t seem to care who he really is. The grumblers don’t seem to care about the truth, and according to the other Gospel for today, that is who Zaccheus sees and knows him and the Truth sees him. Lucy Lind Hogan points out that, “Truth is an important issue in the Gospel according to John. While the word truth, aletheia, appears only six times in all three of the Synoptic Gospels and three times in Acts, John uses it twenty-two times. In fact, the Gospel is essentially a circular answer to a question that is posed by Pilate during the passion. As Jesus appeared in the praetorium, Pilate asked him if he was a king. Jesus responded: “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I am come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” . This prompts Pilate to ask, “What is truth?” But of course we, the readers of the Gospel, already know the answer. We were told it at the beginning, for the Gospel opened with the declaration that,”the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth . . . [and while] the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”. Jesus, the incarnate one, is the truth of God. If we know the truth, that is, if we know Jesus, that knowledge and that knowledge alone will set us free. Doing and living the law will not.” End Quote. Jesus once again sees an outcast, one that has to live in the gray and dim spaces and he sees, welcomes, acknowledges, and brings light and life. Ushering, once again, someone from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God. This truth truly does free us. Have you ever been on the outside? A suspect? One that felt the weight of false assumptions or even one that was guilty but thought irredeemable? Jesus sees you, welcomes, acknowledges, frees and brings light and life to you, to me, to all the world ushering us from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God. Jesus not only sees the truth about you but he is the truth in that through him no one is the sum of what others think of them and no one is hopeless. That’s what Zaccheus saw. That’s why he ran like a child up a tree to see Jesus. Whether it was Jesus or Zaccheus that was short in stature, that point is the view of Jesus was obstructed by others. We are called on this day, Reformation Day, to be always reforming, always growing, always examining ourselves to be better reflections of the light of Christ. We are called to see that truth, The Truth and to be filled with life and light and to go bearing and sharing it with others over which falsehood, assumptions and rejection cast a long dark shadow that they too, might have life and have it abundantly. Amen.