Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
If we desire to follow Jesus in all of life, we learn what this following looks like as we enter into the gospel narrative and spend time with Jesus along with his early followers, listening to what he says, and watching what he does. This week the lectionary reading invites us to enter into the narrative in Luke 19:;1-10 as Jesus arrives at a gate of the city of Jericho. A walled city, Jesus and those with him, would enter in by a city gate, and follow a road leading through the city to the other side, then exit the city through another gate in the city wall. We discover as we follow Jesus through the gate that we are immediately introduced to Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector who is rich. Many other people are lining the street as Jesus walks by, and a crowd is also walking alongside Jesus. This makes Jesus hard to see, and Zacchaeus, who is short in stature, discovers that he is elbowed out by the many people standing along the road.
Zacchaeus has become wealthy by means of collecting more taxes than are required by the Roman authorities, and by skimming a certain amount off the top of taxes that other tax collectors receive. As we noticed in last week’s gospel reading (Luke 18:9-14), tax collectors were relegated to a place in society alongside “thieves, rogues, and adulterers.” Over-taxed, dominated by the Roman occupation, anxious because work was hard to come by, and burdened by the restrictive traditions which housed the Mosaic Law, people were anxious, demoralized, and angry. Hence the crowd alongside the road becomes a human wall, denying this chief of tax collectors a place to see what was going on that day in the city. They are unable to recognize that his desire to see Jesus echoed their desire to crowd close to this rabbi who some spoke of the Messiah—one who would rescue them from their troubles.
At the same time, Zacchaeus saw people as less than human, and certainly not as created in God’s image. People were money-makers: money-makers for him.
But beneath his title, behind his role as chief tax collector, Zacchaeus is a man who is lonely, and who finds himself drawn to see this man Jesus, this rabbi he hears about who welcomes thieves, rogues, adulterers, and even tax-collectors.
If we choose to walk behind the crowd lining the road, we will see him, this little man, running ahead, and climbing a sycamore tree growing nearby. From this vantage point Zacchaeus can now see where Jesus is. Zacchaeus knows the roads and back alleys of the city, and he knows that Jesus will pass that way on his journey through Jericho.
What he does not know, is that he is known by Jesus. As Jesus arrives at the place on the road near to the tree Zacchaeus has climbed, he stops, looks up, and calls him by name:
“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”
Although Jesus is walking through this city, is imbedded in the crowd on the road, and the many persons lining the side of the road, he is not choked or held captive by their tight and constrictive world. Jesus walks and breathes within a bigger sphere – the gracious space of God’s kingdom. It is within this space, and out of this space, that Jesus sees, stops, listens, knows, speaks, and acts. In great contrast to the crowd who elbow this little man out, and to Zacchaeus who sees people as money-makers, Jesus chooses this little man to be his host. Jesus sees into the heart and soul, the home of God’s inbreathing, the place where desire for God and home-coming still reside.
Zacchaeus and the crowd are startled by what Jesus says to this little man perched in the sycamore tree. While Zacchaeus climbs down the tree and takes Jesus to his house, the crowd, still caught in the grasp of the religious tradition, and angry at this man who takes their money—to give to the Roman authorities and to line his own pockets, is unable to recognize the gracious space of God’s kingdom. Not yet. And so they grumble:
“He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus does see. He does recognize something about Jesus and about himself.
Standing within this gracious space Jesus is offering him by coming to his house for a meal, this greedy, rich chief of tax collectors, suddenly sees who he has been, and who the persons are. They no longer exist to make him wealthy, they are persons who are poor and in need, they are persons he has cheated. Within himself he becomes aware and hospitable to the crowd – who shortly before had elbowed him out. Now, this little man welcomes them into this new space of God’s gracious love—in which he stands, and which is now transforming his inner being. He stands before Jesus and says:
“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.”
Jesus sees the change, the transformation being birthed within this lonely little man, and
speaks words of welcome, assures him of family and identity within the great family and gracious rule of God. Jesus speaks these words in the presence of the crowd – so that they too can begin to recognize the birthing of this new space and transformation among them:
“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.”
We are all lost this side of Eden, and it is God who comes, Jesus who comes, the Holy Spirit who comes, to awaken us to the greater wonder and love of God’s gracious rule, this new space of acceptance and transformation present among us through the presence and life-giving gift of Jesus.
We can only wonder how persons began to recognize and enter into this gracious God-space as Zacchaeus walks the roads and the back alleys of Jericho, giving to the poor, and giving back what he owes to those he had cheated. He is a child of Abraham now, a son, a person who has been birthed into the blessing and promise given to Abraham, and fulfilled in Jesus. Now he knows who he is, and he sees people they truly are with the gaze and response of compassion and generosity.
Prayer before reading:
Lord Jesus Christ,
In this season of Pentecost
You come to us by your Holy Spirit.
Help me to welcome you,
To be with you as you indwell my life and being.
Help me to hear you,
To see as you see,
To turn to you in trust and faith,
And to learn to love you above all. Amen
Read slowly. Listen deeply. Indwell the scripture.
TWENTY-FOURTH WEEK AFTER PENTECOST
10/28 Monday: Luke 19:1-10
10/29 Tuesday: Luke 19:1-10
10/30 Wednesday: Psalm 32:1-7
10/31 Thursday: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
11/1 Friday: Isaiah 1:10-18
11/2 Saturday: Luke 19:1-10
11/3 Sunday: Luke 19:1-10