What God Can Do

“What God Can Do”

by Sara Holland
Hingham Congregational Church. United Church of Christ
Hingham, Massachusetts
October 30, 2016
Scripture: Luke 19:1 – 10; Psalm 32: 1 – 7


What a beloved story – this story of Zacchaeus, the short man who wanted to see Jesus. Such a beloved story that it has a little song:

Zacchaeus was a small little man

And a small little man was he

He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted see

And as the savior passed that way he looked up in the tree;

And said: “Zacchaeus, you come down! For I’m going to your house today! For I’m going . . . !!”

I bet some of us have a memory of this song and if we don’t . . . well we do now. . .


There is some aspect of this story that resonates with many people so strongly. Maybe it is that silly song or a memory of that song? Maybe it is the way that Jesus’ power simply is in the story. Maybe it has to do with this image of someone climbing . . . climbing . . . just to see. Maybe it has to do with the conviction that Zacchaeus feels all at once. Maybe we long for such conviction.

I think one of the most important unanswered questions in this story is that we do not know why Zacchaeus has climbed that tree. Yes, we know it was to see Jesus, the person who everyone was talking about. . . but WHY did he want to see Jesus so much?

And in fact, that name – Zacchaeus – it means ‘innocent’[1] Yes, “Zacchaeus was the Greek rendering of a common Hebrew name meaning ‘innocent’ or ‘clean.’”[2] My read of this text is that Zacchaeus does not really know why he wants to see Jesus, but there is some part of him that knows he needs to see this person who many have claimed to be a savior. So he climbs the sycamore tree.

Jesus is passing through and Holy Spirit does what Holy Spirit does; the spirit leads Jesus to the bottom of the tree and the declaration is made: “Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house today.” And what is important here is that Jesus is simply saying this is a divine moment. He must go to Zacchaeus’ home; this going to Zacchaeus’ house was ordained.

And we may remember that this is of course not the only time that Jesus decided to be with those who were not well-liked by the majority of their community. See Zacchaeus was not just a tax collector, but a chief tax collector; not a popular person in the community. A double-whammy position, if you will. This man with lots of money . . . what was Zacchaeus looking for?

I do not think Zacchaeus knew at all what was going to happen when he climbed that sycamore tree, but he wanted to see. . .


Something about this story reminds me of journeys of self-discovery I have heard here in this church and even in popular culture. Growing up I would often go see movies with my father. A child of the 90s, I’m reminded now of the film, The Edge. I mean not to ruin a great film for you if you have not seen it, but one theme of this film is that there is this extremely wealthy man who knows there is more to find. This man finds himself stuck in the wilderness with friends when he is exploring in Alaska. This character, played by the talented Anthony Hopkins, does not know what he is looking for, but he is searching. This character does not realize what situations one may end up in if they are to search; but, this character is moved by some spirit – to search. This character could not fight spirit.

We cannot fight spirit. We can try, but there will be times it will lead us no matter what we do. Spirit is going to do what spirit is going to do.

And Zacchaeus did not know at all what he was looking for . . . but spirit led him up that tree.

And much like Zacchaeus not knowing what he was looking for, we are not sure what we are looking for, but we climb a tree anyway. . .

We search in the wilderness; not just in movies, but in real life.

We climb up actual mountains just because we sense it will show us more.

We read a book that is a classic, searching for a novel truth.

We listen to a song over 1,000 times, knowing there is still more to hear.

We pray with a friend, knowing that God must be there.

We dare to make sense out nonsensical suffering.

We look for unity in a time that experts say is as polarized as the 1960s.

We do not know exactly what we are looking for, and we cannot help but follow spirit. This should not settle us; God’s spirit is the ultimate paradox, the unsettling comfort of today, yesterday, and tomorrow.

And we do not know at all what we are looking for.


Zacchaeus did not know at all what would happen when he climbed that tree – but he did! And ah man what an encounter and experience he was led into! Here he is, just trying to see over some folks’ heads to get a glimpse of Jesus and before he knows it Jesus gives him this divine message – I must come to your house.

When Zacchaeus hears this, he is happy, perhaps feeling noticed in a community where tax collectors were not necessarily the favorite people in the town. Tax collectors were seen as those who had betrayed the Jewish law. So Zacchaeus, “The innocent” is happy. As he is happy, the people who hear this scoff that Jesus is going to be with Zacchaeus. ‘Why would Jesus want to hang out with this guy?’

And as Jesus and Zacchaeus encounter one another, God’s love does what God’s love does – it transforms Zacchaeus. This divine encounter points Zacchaeus back to the strictest law of restitution, discussed in Exodus. And while some scholars say that this is actually just pointing Zacchaeus back to customary procedure, there is still this sense of DEEP heart transformation.

And Jesus lays proclamation to this Holy Spirit transformation. Jesus lays claim to the salvation that transformation has led to. With divine transformation, Zacchaeus found a path that led to freedom. So Zacchaeus did not know why he climbed that tree, but he ended up seeing what God could do.


Just like Zacchaeus, divine transformation will show us a path to freedom. Just like Zacchaeus did not know God would find him, you may be surprised to see how God finds you. Just like Zacchaeus ended up seeing what God could do, you may see what God can do.

You may search discovering divine, Holy Spirit.

You may climb and be led to even higher places.

You may indeed find that novel truth in literature.

You will hear that new note or lyric that casts a light into the darkness.

Your prayer will evoke a peace that passes understanding.

You may name God’s presence in the hardest of moments,

And you WILL find some sense of unity.

God’s unsettling comfort of today, yesterday, and tomorrow may transform your heart over and over and over. This is just what happens. This is what God can do.

Transforming love – it is yours. Go. Claim it.


Attridge, Harold W (ed.). The Harper Collins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated (New Revised Standard Version – With the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Student Edition). San Francisco, CA: Harper One, 1989.


[1]Harold W. Attridge (ed.), The Harper Collins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated (San Francisco, CA: Harper One, 1989), Amos, 1978, 1800.

[2]Attridge, Luke, 1800.