Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Readings – Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 119:137-144; II Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

This morning I will focus on the well-known passage from our Gospel according to St. Luke.  It occupies an important position in this Gospel, being placed just before the final approach of Jesus to Jerusalem, and the Holy Week narratives that begin with the triumphal procession on Palm Sunday.  This text can best be understood by looking at the two groups and the two individuals included. 

First – the crowd in Jericho.

All who saw it [the interaction of Jesus and Zacchaeus] began                                             to grumble and said, “he [Jesus] has gone to be the guest of                                               one who is a sinner”.

In the ancient world hospitality was a precious gift, extended to only the closest friends and family.  In this situation, a Holy Man, a man of faith [Jesus], invited himself into the home of one who was outside the community of faith.  Zacchaeus was separated from the community of faith by his profession.  He collected taxes for the oppressive, imperial Roman government.  In Colonial America, such people were tarred and feathered.  Zacchaeus was not welcomed at synagogue or at the temple.  He was shunned as an outcast and a traitor.  To write that the crowd “grumbled” was an understatement, the crowd was outraged and shocked at such behavior.  How could this Jesus even consider such an event? 

Second – the guests who attended the dinner at the home of Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus was a wealthy man who was associated with “the movers and shakers” of ancient Jericho.  So, his associates were leaders of commerce and Roman administration as well as immediate family.  It would have been a sumptuous banquet, most likely ignoring kosher guidelines.  And Jesus dined among them, presumably eating and drinking.  I wonder how the disciples responded to such a setting, perhaps they refused to attend.  This venue was most unlike all the others described in the Gospel narrative. 

Jesus is the central figure in this narrative.  He was the societal rule-breaker, the barrier-breaker.  The usual narrative was Jesus breaking through to the blind, the poor, the leper, and the outcast, to demonstrate God’s love for all sorts of the downtrodden, the lower rungs of society.  He declared that they, too, were part of the Beloved Community that he was stretching to expand.  Yet, in this passage, instead of stretching down to lift up, Jesus extends love to the upper levels of society.  In this passage, Jesus extends the love of God to the rich and famous of Jericho.  Jesus declared through his action that they, too, are part of the Beloved Community.  The expansive love of God truly knows no boundaries, said the rule-breaker Jesus – “who came to seek and to save the lost” no matter what their social status. 

Perhaps this message is too often neglected in our own day.  There are “lost” people struggling to put food on the table and afford health care, and there are “lost” people living in high luxury.  Recall the collect from Morning Prayer —

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on                                                        the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within                                     the reach of your saving embrace…

Zacchaeus, the tax collector

We encounter his curiosity as he struggled to see Jesus and climbed a sycamore tree, pretty undignified for the chief tax collector.  He, like the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night outside of Bethlehem, wanted to see what this Jesus was like.  As the shepherds hurried to Bethlehem, so Zacchaeus hurried to see Jesus.  When addressed by Jesus, who had the audacity to invite himself to dinner, Zacchaeus “hurried down and was overjoyed to welcome him”.  Jesus greeted him by name and thereby gave notice to all the crowd that he was a valued member of the newly forming Beloved Community; Jesus once again stretched out his hands in love.  And Zacchaeus was overwhelmed with joy and with gratitude.  Zacchaeus did what all people do when they are filled with thanksgiving.  He declared:

…half 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.

When there is joyful thanksgiving, it is always connected to generosity.  Thanksgiving and generosity are linked; there cannot be one without the other.  If anyone is thankful, one is generous like Zacchaeus. 

So, what are the inspirational takeaways from these ten verses of St. Luke’s Gospel?  How do they inspire us in our walk of faith?

First, invite people to walk with you, and seek out companions each and every day.  We have no idea where those we walk with will take us.  We have no idea how Jesus and Zacchaeus first met, but Jesus welcomed him and dinned with him among family and friends.  May we always be on the lookout for partners, people to welcome and to greet on our walk of faith.  As someone once advised me, “do not have coffee alone”. 

A short aside, when asked about something that was unexpected about her new community, Police Chief Mitchel reported that people here greet one another as friends. 

Schedule your days so that there will be openings to greet others, and seek to expand your circle.  In greeting others warmly communicate that you value them. 

Second, be ready to be surprised by the outcome of your welcome, and your greeting.  Zacchaeus in thanksgiving declared the generous gift of one-half his resources to the poor of Jericho.  Extraordinary!! You never know what your acceptance and welcome will bring. 

There is scholarly speculation that this Zacchaeus narrative was included in St. Luke’s Gospel because he became a member of the early Christian community of Jericho.  Hence, we know him by name.  If true, that community expanded the circle to include an outcast in their Beloved Community. 

A brief encounter; a sycamore tree climbed; a banquet attended; a model of faith for us all.

Jesus and Zacchaeus.


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