Saturday Sermon: Great expectations
Jan. 27, 2012 at midnight
Updated Jan. 26, 2012 at 7:27 p.m.
By the Rev. Dimitri Cozby
The story of Zacchaeus is told in St Luke's Gospel (19:1-10). Zacchaeus was a tax collector.
In the Roman Empire, revenue officers were not government functionaries, but independent entrepreneurs.
The person contracted with the government to collect a particular tax and turn over a set amount to the imperial treasury. Anything he brought in over and above the agreed amount was his profit.
Thus the best interest of the collector was to be as predatory and unscrupulous as possible. The system encouraged the collector to be greedy and dishonest.
People expected this sort of behavior from tax collectors. We are told that Zacchaeus was a wealthy man.
Thus he had almost certainly exploited the corrupt system to the fullest. He had no goals beyond material success, certainly no intention of being a good, kind and compassionate man.
His neighbors didn't have very high expectations for Zacchaeus either. As a tax collector they expected him to be unscrupulous, dishonest and selfish.
No doubt his behavior matched what he and others around expected of him. He bought into other people's bad opinion of himself.
Other people's prejudices do not excuse his willingness to adopt their attitude, but it does, to some degree, explain it. People knew that he would be greedy, rapacious, evil. Very well, he would live down to their expectations. Righteousness was not on his "to-do list."
Often we become trapped being what others think we are. A lot of what is called "low self-esteem" comes from others' expectations of us.
Family, friends and people we must deal with in daily life, because of their own difficulties and disappointments, build an image of us.
They see us as losers; they don't think we are worthy of trust or will do the right thing; frustration is all they expect from us. Often, we buy into their views.
I remember a troubled young man once telling me, after he'd gotten into a scrape, "The problem is always me. Everybody knows I can't do anything right."
Nobody expects we'll do well, we don't expect it either, and thus we don't live up to our potential for good.
Like all of us, however, Zacchaeus had within him the image of God and a yearning for righteousness. Before, he had lived down to people's expectations.
Then he meets Christ.
Suddenly he's confronted by one with other expectations of him. He encounters one whose love can reach into the depths of his soul and draw the goodness out of him. Zacchaeus responds with an outpouring of repentance and generosity.
"Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold."
Instead of continuing to live by others' expectations of him and his equally low opinion of himself, he transforms into the man God created him to be - a source of compassion and love.
In Christ, the same transformation is open to us, if we accept his expectations for us - not others', not our own.
The Rev. Dimitri Cozby is the pastor of All Saints Orthodox Church, Victoria.