Saturday, October 29, 2016

I Must Stay at Your House

Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”   Luke 19:2-5

We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.  2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

God has mercy on all, even the tax collector. Last week, we heard Jesus reflect on the simple prayer of the tax collector from the back of the church. He stood off and confessed while praying for mercy.  Perhaps that tax collector knew Zacchaeus -- who was possibly his boss as the “chief tax collector.”  Today, action shifts outside the temple where the chief tax collector wants a better view of Jesus walking past.

We have already well-established that Jesus did not care what people say about the company he keeps.  Jesus dines with the traitorous, combative Pharisees.  Jesus commands that the prayers of the belligerent Roman centurions to be fulfilled.  Jesus touches the untouchable lepers.  Jesus converses in the light of day with a Samaritan woman at the well. Now, Jesus heads off to stay at the house of the cheating chief tax collector. 

Zacchaeus is different from other rich men encountered in Luke’s stories.  In Luke 18, the rich man could not consider life without material possessions. Jesus tells him: “There is still one thing left for you: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when he heard this he became quite sad, for he was very rich. (Luke 18:22-23)

Then there is the rich man who ignored the needs of Lazarus at his gate until he died and was condemned to the netherworld where he was in torment.”

In Zacchaeus, we see that Jesus’ message does not always fall on deaf ears.  Zacchaeus is the celebration of conversion.  Jesus’ call to change is everything.  It is the only thing. 

You cannot say we were not warned from the outset about the evils of money.  Right there in chapter one Luke magnificently sings:  The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty (Luke 1:53).  Wealth is not a ticket to success in the Kingdom. Jesus warned the crowd: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) and followed that up with the Parable of the Rich Fool.  Wealth can have a place in life if we trust its limits and give God what is due.

Zacchaeus becomes the exemplar of a new value system where God and others are at the center replacing self and money.  Like in so many other topics, Jesus reverses the contemporary power structure to set down a new way to thrive.  God made Zacchaeus worthy of his calling and powerfully brought to fulfillment His good purpose and effort in that change of heart.  How ironic that Zacchaeus comes down from a tree to exemplify the new order while Jesus has to be nailed to one before he is lifted up.

Yet, even with this gratifying success, Jesus still does not hold up Zacchaeus as
a model of a generous life.  That is reserved for the poor woman who gives over her last two coins: “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” (Luke 21:3-4) They prove that the Spirit of the Lord can fall upon the rich and the poor though it takes personal conversion in both cases. 

The Bible is filled with stories of people wrestling with their personal financial condition. They were not inundated with ads from the investment firms who use their wealth to tilt election outcomes and business profits and stock options. They did not have to deal with the daily financial report of the Dow, S&P or NASDAQ indices and each of their gyrations. Like poor Tevia in Fiddler on the Roof, many of the lowly dreamed of riches – not winning the Mega-Million Lottery, but just of having enough to survive.

The poor widow and Bartimeus lived the harsh economic realities on a daily basis. They knew little of the comfort experienced by Zacchaeus.  Yet, after one glance, a personal invitation was all it took. Jesus did not want to visit, Jesus wanted to STAY in Zacchaeus’ house. Jesus DEMANDED to stay at his house.

What will it take for Jesus to conquer modern economic realities in order to STAY in our house? Not that we visit his house for an hour each week.  But that Jesus moves into our guest room and takes up residence close by so the ear of our hearts remains open to hearing His word?

No one is called to do everything, but each of us can do something. And we can strive not to stand against each other when the protection and the promotion of life are at stake. (Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, A Consistent Ethic of Life: Continuing the Dialogue, March 11, 1984)

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