In our Old Testament passage, the prophet Haggai is speaking to the people of Judah after they have returned from exile in Babylon. They have rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem after it was completely destroyed by the Babylonians. But the rebuilt temple was but a shadow of it’s former glory. And so the prophet Haggai speaks a word of encouragement to the people of Judah, telling them to be strong, and not to fear, because God is with them. In what follows, Haggai speaks of the promise that God will soon fill this new temple with God’s Glory, and glory that will be greater than the first temple.
The promise of Haggai was never fulfilled in any literal sense. The second temple also was destroyed, this time by the Romans. It’s glory never surpassed the glory of the first temple.
But in a metaphoric sense, it could be argued that the promise was fulfilled. The Apostle Paul reminds us that the real temple is not a building made of stone or bricks and mortar. The real temple was always meant to be human beings in whom God’s Spirit dwells.
As we read the Gospel passage today, we see a glimpse of the real temple, a human being, filled with God’s Spirit, walking through the streets of Jericho. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. And the invitation of Christ, this living Temple of God’s presence in the world, the one in whom God’s Spirit dwelt in all it’s fullness, was that other’s too could become living, walking, breathing temples in which God’s Spirit could be seen to dwell.
And this was essentially the invitation that Jesus was offering to Zacchaeus when he called Zacchaeus down from the sycamore tree. In that simple action of calling Zacchaeus by name and inviting himself over to Zacchaeus’s house for a meal, Jesus was in effect inviting Zacchaeus to begin a journey in which he too could realise his potential to become a living Temple in which God’s Spirit could be seen to dwell. And by the end of the story this is indeed what happens.
In the context of the story, Zacchaeus was quite possibly the wealthiest man in Jericho. But he was also quite probably the most despised man in Jericho too. His wealth had come from not only from collaboration with the Roman oppressors, but it had also come from cheating others. Growing rich at the expense of others. He would almost certainly have been looked down upon as one of the worst of humanity, a despicable human being driven by greed, valuing money and riches above his fellow human beings and countryman.
How shocked the crowds must have been to hear that Jesus would be willing speak with Zacchaeus let alone associate with him by visiting his home. Surely religious teachers should not be associating with despicable scum like Zacchaeus? Why this lying, cheating, stealing scumbag? Why of all people did Jesus choose to visit him? Indications are the crowds were not just shocked, but also offended.
I can imagine some around him thinking: How can Jesus share table fellowship with the man who defrauded my grand-parents, or brother or cousin, forcing them to sell the home and leaving them destitute? How many other stories like that could have been be told of Zacchaeus by others in the town?
And so we read in verse 7: When all the people saw this, they began to mutter amongst themselves, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner”.
What was Jesus thinking? It appears that in Jesus eyes, even lying, cheating, stealing scumbags like Zacchaeus remained valuable in God’s eyes. But this wouldn’t have gone down well with everyone in the crowd. It was justice they wanted, not the saving of this man’s soul. In their minds he was unredeemable.
But for Zacchaeus, this was a Damascus moment. It was a moment in which the scales fell from his eyes. In the light of Christ’s perfect love, purity and goodness, he came to see the thing that his heart had longed for the most. He discovered a treasure that was worth more than all the money he had accumulated. In that moment, he surely discovered the real meaning and purpose of his own life, that he too was created to be a living temple of God’s glory in the world. And having discovered his true identity in the overwhelming Presence of Christ’s goodness and love, the chains around his heart were broken and he was set free, free to live a life of love in the place of deceit, free to live a life of generosity in the place of greed.
In verse 8 “But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Zacchaeus in this moment discovers the truth of Jesus’ saying: It is better to give than receive! He also reveals that a heart that he been touched by love is a heart moved to put right the wrongs of the past. And not just pay it back, but pay it back with interest on top… “I will pay back four times the amount he says.
And Jesus response in vs 9 & 10: “Today salvation has come to this house.” Salvation is not about the afterlife, it is also about a life of wholeness lived in his world.
In the person of Zacchaeus, God’s Temple had been rebuilt and restored, and it was far more glorious than any temple built of rocks or bricks and mortar.
Isn’t it interesting that the saving of Zacchaeus came not through words of judgement or condemnation, but rather through the presence and the power of love.
Psalm 65:1-8 is also set alongside the readings from Haggai and Luke in today’s lectionary. When one reads Psalm 65 in the light of the Zacchaeus story, the Psalm comes alive in a wonderful new way:
Verse 1 “Praise awaits you in Zion, to you our vows will be fulfilled.” Zacchaeus makes a vow in Jesus presence, a vow that when fulfilled would bring praise to God. “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Verse 2 “You answer prayer, to you all people will come” As Jesus calls Zacchaeus out of the tree, the deepest prayer of his heart is realised and answered.
Verse 3 “When we were overwhelmed by our sins, you forgave our transgressions”. In the Presence of Christ, the Living Temple of God’s presence, Zacchaeus experiences the forgiveness of his overwhelming sins and transgressions.
In verse 4 “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts. They are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple”. In the story, Zacchaeus is brought near to the living Temple, the Presence of God shining through the person of Jesus and as he is chosen by Jesus and brought near, he finds his heart filled with good things. Filled to overflowing.
Verse 5 “You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds God our Saviour, the hope of the ends of the earth and the farthest see.” In Jesus Presence, Zacchaeus finds the deepest hopes of the earth and the deepest hopes of his own heart answered.
Verse 7 goes on to speak of God stilling the roaring of the seas and the roaring of their waves. In the presence of Jesus, the Living Temple of God’s presence, the storms within Zacchaeus are stilled.
Verse 8 “The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.” What beautiful poetry: “where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.” In the presence of Christ, the Living Temple of God’s presence, God calls forth songs of joy in Zacchaeus’s heart, making him to a Temple in which God’s Presence and love can be seen to dwell. Amen.
May God bless you as these reflections continue to speak into your own hearts.