Our lesson on Sunday for Children's Sunday School came from the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. (Luke 19:1-10, ELCA Lectionary 31C, Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost) Together, we learned about grace, being called by name and belonging to the family of God.
Zacchaeus was a Jew who collected taxes from other Jewish people for the Romans, the despised foreign occupiers of their land as promised by God. So as a traitor to his own people, Zaccheaus was rejected from his community, the family of Abraham. Even worse, Zacchaeus was dishonest. He took more than the Roman law required and kept the extra for himself.
One day as Jesus and a group of followers were passing by, Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree so he could see who Jesus was. The story told in Luke doesn't say he had changed, nor that he even wanted to. It doesn't say Zacchaeus had repented or had become a believer. It only says he was curious to see who Jesus was. (What a blessing it is to simply "come and see" as Jesus says in several other Gospel stories!)
Here is where the story really gets great. Jesus stopped and called up to the tree, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." Well in that time and place, family stayed with family. Family ate with family. That was the custom. And like so many stories where we see Jesus choosing to stay with or dine with sinners and all manner of society's hurt, lost, rejected and dejected, Jesus had just called Zacchaeus by name and essentially said, "Zacchaeus, you are part of the family. I am with you."
Sure, the others were upset. Zacchaeus had hurt them first, after all. But thank God that each of us is always within reach of God's love. We can turn our backs on God or on our brothers and sisters. We can try to sin our way out God's grace. We can climb a tree to get above the others when we have been pushed outside our community. But "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)
Today, as you think of Zacchaeus, remember your own baptism when Jesus called you by name and said, "You are part of my family."