"And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:
"I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God's creation: "I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are luke-warm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, 'I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.' You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches."
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Then Jesus said to him, "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."
To be found by Jesus, Zacchaeus had to give up and lose much of himself. First of all, his dignity by climbing up the sycamore tree, and then much of his wealth by paying back fourfold those he had defrauded. Maybe Jesus too had to lose some of his dignity as a "holy man," by going to dine at the home of the unclean sinner. Zacchaeus, after all, was even "chief tax collector" in the important city of Jericho, through which many pilgrims had to pass on their way to the festivals at Jerusalem. This city funneled all the wealth of the East towards the capital.
When Jesus came to the spot where Zacchaeus had climbed the sycamore tree, he looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, hurry down!," for he had seen a spirit of repentance in the man's heart. Jesus risked still more of his dignity, by inviting himself to the sinner's house, for he came "to search out and save what was lost." And the tax-collector's response was whole-hearted acceptance.
Mostly our decisions are much less dramatic and easily overlooked. It is easy to be lukewarm, like the church of Laodicea. If we are lukewarm, we are not really bad; we help the poor, a little; we are sympathetic, sometimes; we are forgiving, towards a select few. In other words, we practice our Christianity half-heartedly. Strangely enough, God wishes that we "were one or the other, hot or cold." In the language of the gospel, God seems to prefer that we would be great sinners, capable of conversion, rather than "lukewarm, neither hot nor cold," standing up for nothing and just taking the easy option in all circumstances!
People are often more complex than we give them credit for. Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector in the pay, the Romans, was identified by the people of Jericho as a sinner. It was presumed that he was taking more money in taxes than he was entitled to and kept the surplus for himself. Yet, there was more to Zacchaeus than the label 'sinner.' He was also a seeker. The gospel says that he was seeking to see what kind of man Jesus was. Indeed, he was so intent on seeking Jesus that he was prepared to climb a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus, a rather undignified thing to do for a person of his status. When Jesus looked up at Zacchaeus in the tree, he didn't see Zacchaeus the sinner but rather Zacchaeus the seeker. He was responding to Zacchaeus the seeker when he said, 'I must stay at your house today.' Jesus entered into communion with Zacchaeus, shared table with him, and in so doing released Zacchaeus' generosity of spirit. We can label ourselves or be labelled by others in a very negative way, but the Lord's way, seeing us is always far more generous. He recognizes the seeker in us, the longing for something better, and if we allow him to enter into communion with us he will draw out our latent goodness and generosity.