Sermon for 23rd Sunday after Trinity – Ordinary Time 31, Year C
31st October 2016
An acquaintance of mine is a chaplain at Rimutaka in the Hutt Valley – following an encounter with a particularly notorious Mongrel Mob member she found herself calling into question her whole approach. He was interested in becoming a Christian – and she was teaching him all about Christian beliefs and reminding him over and again of God’s unconditional love and acceptance for him, when he finally lost his patience with her and shouted, ‘but you’re suppose to tell me how to live my life!!’
That there might be a Way of existence – the Christian life was more than ‘knowing you were loved by God’ and a set of beliefs – whilst she wouldn’t deny it – she was far too vague about what that might mean
Another story. Sarah and I were doing the tourist thing – sat on the floor of a typical Fijian dwelling, discovering the ‘pleasures’ of kava [not to be confused with Cava . . . 🙂 ] whilst listening to the chief. He was the Methodist minister for the community and spoke at some length and without embarrassment about their ‘Christian’ way of life together, how they all shared the little they had and never closed the door to a stranger. After a while this became too much for a young Australian tourist – – well I think he was Australian . . . 😉 – who burst out, ‘but what right had those missionaries to tell you how to live? Imposing their views on you!’
The chief paused, put down his kava bowl, looked him in the eye and said, ‘young man, our people are very very grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ and for those missionaries who gave everything to bring it to us for, before they came . . .
we used to eat each other . . .’
Perhaps there really was more to this Christian Existence than ‘living YOUR life, knowing you were loved by God’, plus a set of infinitely variable beliefs about that God. That, to become Christian was somehow to change – or perhaps, to be changed?
Last week we considered the Pharisee – part of our difficulty in hearing about the Pharisee is that we think we know what a Pharisee is – but, as we explored last time we are perhaps more like the Pharisees than we like to think – for example, an important element of ‘being a Pharisee’ is thinking ‘I don’t need to change. After all, I am a good person and my life doesn’t harm anyone else.’ Pharisees are ‘Respectable’, fine upstanding members of the community. Certainly not like those Mongrel mob sorts, and have certainly NEVER!!! had a taste for eating other human beings. The judgment of the behaviour of others requires a sense of security in our own goodness – and whilst I am sure the Pharisee would say ‘well of course no one is perfect . . .’ I guess he gave little thought to his own need to change
So we come to a story about a tax collector, but not this time, a parable. The story about Jesus encountering the tax collector Zacchaeus – and it is a Wonderful story, and like so many of the ‘stories of the Bible’, we actually miss how wonderful it is as we have become so accustomed to hearing it 🙂
Imagine for a moment if you will that we are coming to this story afresh, and have been paying attention to the gospel week by week – this IS important, the Gospel is itself a whole story. We don’t hear the Gospel by taking a chapter out of the flow. That would be like reading a novel as if it were a set of essays which you could read in any order. Luke has gone to a lot of trouble to set out ‘an orderly account’, and the order matters.
So, recently we’ve listened to lots of Jesus’ teaching about the terrifying perils of wealth. The last time we encountered this together was a couple of weeks back with the Dire parable of the Rich man and Lazarus – with the chasm fixed between the two, in life and then in death. Then – although we missed it – Luke includes the story of the young man, whom was unable to follow Jesus, because ‘he was very rich’. How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God. Indeed it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God’ Followed by the agonised question of those who heard him, saying ‘Who then CAN be saved??’
And in-between The Pharisee and the Tax collector – the Pharisee, just like that Wealthy ruler – ‘I have kept all these commandments since my youth!’ – and the tax collector, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’, who went away justified rather than the Pharisee.
So if we’re paying attention, it seems Pharisees and the wealthy are OUT, Tax collectors and sinners are IN . . . but!!!!
. . . ‘Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold [!] there was a man named Zacchaeus, who was the chief among the [tax collectors], and he was rich.’ Luke says – Behold!! That strong form of look, or see – Behold – he is the Chief tax collector – a sinner amongst sinners – AND He is RICH!!
On the one hand, The tax collector went home justified, on the other, the Rich man ended up in Hades with a gulf fixed – and ‘it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle . . .’ if we have been paying attention, Doctor Luke has got us now on the edge of our seats 🙂 ‘Chief amongst the tax-collectors AND he was rich . . .
Let’s read on . . . Zacchaeus – whose name by the way and somewhat provocatively means ‘Righteous . . .’ was seeking to SEE Jesus – he was trying to Really See him, to BEHOLD Jesus – and of course we know Zacchaeus cannot see him for the Crowd – The Crowd was doing the Crowd stuff, Getting in the way . . . ‘for he was a little man . . .’ 🙂 But Zacchaeus WANTS to SEE Jesus and will not be stopped, so he runs ahead and climbs a sycamore tree . . . how do we know it is a sycamore tree? Because it says so in the Greek, συκομορέαν 🙂
Well as Jesus is walking along, he lifts his eyes – Zacchaeus is a little man – he would have to look up to see Jesus and as we know, tax collectors can’t life their eyes to heaven, rather heaven lifts His eyes to a tax collector. ‘just’ to see, Jesus of course doesn’t need a special word for Really Seeing, because that is all he does, his vision is not clouded. Jesus looked up and said to him ‘Zacchaeus, hurry, come down, today I am going to dwell in your house’
‘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.’ Zacchaeus wants to See Jesus, and thus Jesus wants to come in to be with Zacchaeus 🙂
So he hurried down and Rejoiced to welcome Jesus . . . [David and Michal??]
Meanwhile ‘when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner!’ . . . looks like a whole crowd of pharisees, of course Everyone despised the tax collectors, the whole crowd, and Zacchaeus would have been Notorious – a Chief tax collector. The tax collectors took their cut, and Zacchaeus took a cut from the cuts!! In this encounter, nearly everyone IS a pharisee . . .
And so we have come to the crux . . . How can this be resolved? We know that Jesus is ’the friend of notorious sinners’, BUT it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God . . .’ Is the door shut or is it open – well of course it is open – He rejoices that Jesus has come to his house – and Everything is Changed, most especially, Zacchaeus.
‘And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.’
Here is the crux, here is the difference, here is what really matters. For Zacchaeus what really matters to him is he wants to See Jesus and Jesus wants to be with him and THAT changes everything. Jesus hasn’t asked Zacchaeus to do anything – but He is SO happy that Jesus has come to be with him that He spontaneously opens up to the generosity of God. He SEES Jesus, he GETS Jesus and He just wants to be like Jesus.
The Pharisee thinks he is living a good life, the Young ruler, just wants to ‘live a good life’ – they want some tips on getting it right, or to have a sense that THEY have got it right. Careful, measured, have I met the requirements of the law. They are not interested in Jesus except to see whether he measures up, or as a teacher of timeless truths
Zacchaeus is under no illusions, he KNOWS he is a Sinner – he KNOWS he doesn’t measure up, and he doesn’t want some tips on the good life or the virtues, or living better, He wants Jesus, He wants LIFE and in wanting to See Jesus, Zacchaeus is Set Free from that which held him, his riches. This Love and Life that he has encountered overflows from him – there is no carefulness here – If he were the Rich young man, who wanted to be right by the law, well The Law says, ‘in a case of defrauding another, repay, plus twenty percent.’ Not Zacchaeus, in Jesus he has discovered Grace in abundance, welling up to eternal life – it is pouring out of him – ‘Lord, if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will repay him four times as much – the Law says 20%, but Zacchaeus is now living out of the Generosity of God, forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven, not 20%, but 20 times 20%, 400%. God’s forgiveness is Rejoicing, God’s Generosity is Overflowing
The Christian Life is utterly a Life lived out of all that we have received – as Jesus says, ‘those who have been forgiven much, Love much’
God is not carefully calculating with us – he sends his Son, He gives everything he has for us – in Jesus, the Salvation of God. Like Abraham, he responds out of Faith, giving all that he has – he Sees Jesus, he believes in Jesus and his Life CHANGES beyond recognition. Jesus has come to stay – the Life of Jesus is now beginning to pour out of him.
The Christian Life IS the Life of Jesus – As Jesus says ‘Today, Salvation, Life eternal overflowing and in abundance, Salvation has come to this dwelling place where I have come’
May we too desire above all to See Jesus – to live out of HIs abundance day after day after day. May we throw off the careful calculations of the young ruler, the self security of the pharisee and the crowd, let us leave all that behind to follow him and be changed from one degree of glory to another, we who with unveiled faces BEHOLD HIM. May we truly desire Him, for in truth he has come to seek and save the lost and ‘with God all things are possible . . .’