Have you ever experienced the kindness and love of another person that has changed the way you’ve lived your life? If you have then you know just what kind of blessing that is. Growing up I had a lot of self confidence issues, as is normal for many children. I was told by music teachers that I wasn’t good at singing so I was not invited to sing in the chorus. I struggled to learn how to read and so I was told I was stupid by other children and not allowed to play with them on the playground. I was told by teachers I was disorganized and wouldn’t be successful in life.
As a child, I needed the kindness of someone who would believe in me, besides my parents. I needed the kindness of another to change the future others were trying to project upon me. God placed such persons in my life. People, whose kindness and love, allowed me the confidence to discover myself beyond the harshness of the world around me. I received that kindness from my church family. One member was my reading teacher in school and with her kindness I learned to read and learned to excel at it. Another member in the choir heard me sing and insisted that I needed to sit next to her in worship. She was a trained opera singer and taught me, believed in me, and became a mentor and a friend over the years.
At 17 years old, when I was petrified to speak in front of people, my minister was patient, loving, and kind as I learned to work past my fears and discover the voice God had given to me. It is kindness and love that offers to transform lives more than criticisms and judgments. Rabbi Harold Kushner, a 20th century Jewish theologian, wrote “When you carry out acts of kindness you get a wonderful feeling inside. It is as though something inside your body responds and says, yes, this is how I ought to feel”. The kindness and love that we are called to live in Jesus’ name is meant to not only transform a life in need but to transform our lives as we learn that a life of compassion builds everyone up in faith.
Jesus lived a life of compassion. He lived each day with love for all peoples, even those who were labeled hopeless by the rest of society; those who were written off. In the past couple of months, we have seen Jesus care for victims of Leprosy; and tell stories of the love of God for tax collectors. We have seen Jesus teach about the care and love God shows to those who suffer and feel alone. But today we see how Jesus himself not only taught love and compassion but lived that life as well.
We see him face to face with a tax collector who took a chance to see the one man who seemed to be changing so many lives. A man whose love promised to change his life forever and we know that it did. For Zacchaeus went from that hated, and corrupted tax collector to truly living up to the potential that God had placed upon his heart. He became a disciple and would one day preach Christ’s saving message to the city of Caesarea. Jesus didn’t perform any miracles here. He didn’t do anything that any one of us is not capable of doing. All he did was have faith, Jesus believed that this man was capable of more. Jesus believed that Zacchaeus was worthy of a more meaningful existence than he was living. He loved Zacchaeus despite his poor decisions in life and despite the way others felt about him.
This obviously gave Zacchaeus the courage and confidence to accept the new life he was offered and to share the love that so transformed his life with others who were in need in a world where so many people lived in the shadows of society. Jesus’ response to the people grumbling about his eating with sinners is this, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Jesus sought out those who were considered lost and they in turn sought him out. They sought him out because he was the only one who did not give up on them. He was the only one who reached out to them in love and not in judgment or scorn.
And when these people experienced healing, it was so much more than the physical healing of the body, as we see with our tax collector this morning. It was a spiritual healing, healing of wounds that came from years of human judgment, years of not having people expect anything but bad behaviors from them. I was once told, “If you have high expectations of people they will live up to it. If you have low expectations of people they will live up to those as well”.
We all can make a difference in this world. We all have the ability to shape the lives and experiences of others. Jesus did so daily just by loving and caring for everybody the same. For we are all children of God, thus we all deserve love. We all deserve second and third chances. We too are called to reach out and care for another person, to mentor another person, to share our lives and talents with others. You never know just how your actions can affect the future work of another person. I talk from experience because the people placed into my life have changed my outlook and what I was capable of. Jesus’ faith and love changed the life of Zacchaeus and I know that each of you have probably had that caring person in your lives as well. So let’s do the same for others. Let’s pay it forward by becoming people who not only claim a faith in God and Jesus but who live it every day.
 Rabbi Harold Kushner, 20th century.
 Luke 19: 9-10, NRSV.
(Based on Luke 19: 1-10)