Sunday, November 3, 2019

lets thread that needle

As you know I read commentaries.  I research places. I wonder about Jesus’ journey and what it means for us today.  As I wrote this sermon I got lost.  I got lost in little stories of surprise and blessing and then it dawned on me…This is a little story of surprise and Blessing.

This story of Zacchaeus is found only in Luke’s Gospel. Taking the story at face value raises a few questions. “Why is Zacchaeus so interested in Jesus? How does Jesus know Zacchaeus name? What transpired to prompt Zacchaeus to make such excessive restitution to the poor and to victims he may have defrauded? When is Zacchaeus’s speech in Luke 19:8 made—on the way to his house or after Jesus’ visit?”[1]

Soo many questions and probably none of these will be answered. I don’t know maybe some…we will have to wait and see.

Who is Zacchaeus?  Well, we are told he is more than just a tax collector he is the chief tax collector and “Because the lucrative production and export of balsam was centered in Jericho, his position would have carried both importance and wealth.”[2]

So, here is a wealthy influential man in the very rich city of Jericho.  The town is very rich. It is a vacation spot for the rich and famous;

“At the time of Jesus, Jericho was known as an oasis city. In fact, Herod the Great built his winter palace near here because of its warm climate and fresh water springs. The Bible describes Jericho as the “City of Palm Trees.”
Since Jericho catered to the rich and powerful during the time of Jesus, homeless outcasts often lined the roads in and out of town because it was a good place to encounter the well-to-do traders and political elites.”[3]

It isn’t but a few paragraphs before this Jesus encounters an affluent ruler.  A man well to do, rich even. When inquired how to enter heaven Jesus lays out the basic rules and the man, seemingly not content for quote “I do all those things” Jesus invites him further to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. At which he becomes very sad for he was very rich.

This is where Jesus tells us how difficult it is for the rich to enter heaven and it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle…Now we are literally four paragraphs later and it seems we are about to thread that needle…

One commentator puts it this way: “the man’s name will give us a clue: it is an abbreviation of Zachariah, “the Lord has remembered’, so despite the fact has so much going against him as an “Affluent tax collector’, we feel optimistic about the outcome of the story.”[4]

There is some comedy being played out as well. I mean it is obvious to us even today.  Not much explanation needed.  Here is one of the most rich, influential people in town sees Jesus coming and one translation states; “and he was trying to see Jesus (‘which one is he’); and he couldn’t, because of the crowd, because he was small in stature.” (Luke19:1-4)

Here is the big rich influential man and yet well can’t you just picture him jumping up and down and trying to see and no one is paying him any attention or moving out of the way.  So, what does he do?  He runs up ahead and climbs a tree.

Imagine the sight of one of the richest and most influential people in town scrambling up a tree like a child excited to see a parade pass by.  Then Jesus stops right under the tree looks up and all are expecting Jesus to scold the man or rebuke him but instead Jesus calls him by name.

Jesus calls him by name.  He is so famous that even though Jesus is just passing through he knows him by name…maybe he was informed by someone in the crowd or perhaps that is just how Jesus spirit was working that day.

I can’t imagine his excitement. Can you?  One of the most famous preachers and teachers of his time walks up to him, ok under him, and calls him by name and says I am going to your house today!

“Jesus looked up and said to him ‘Zacchaeus! Quick – down you come: because today I must stay in your House!” (Luke 19:5)

There seems to be an earnest in Jesus command.  Jesus is not asking for an invitation; he is not given any warning for the man to prepare his house.

What happens next is totally amazing to me, Zacchaeus hurry’s down. Maybe he even swung from a branch and leapt down. “And he Joyfully gave him hospitality” he wasn’t put out.  He wasn’t in a panic trying to impress. 

What would you do to try and see just which person in the crowd was Jesus??  How would you know? I wonder how many times Jesus has walked right by us or we walked right by Christ and did not even know which person they were.?

Just wondering?

I also wonder how many here have heard Jesus call them by name? What did that voice sound like?  Did we know at the time it was the voice of God or not till much later? Hind sight and all you know…

When we did hear the call of Jesus, the call to ministry did we answer joyfully, were we prepared to offer Joyful hospitality?  Or did we maybe grumble and set about our duty?  Did we put conditions on the call or bargain with God?

“he came down in a hurry, and joyfully gave him hospitality”

What a blessing… I’d like to think I would be like wow, congratulations. Tell me all about it after he is gone but nooo

peopled grumbled, they complained that he had gone into the house of a man that’s a sinner!!!

Wait a minute who said he was a sinner?  Whose call is that to make? Is he a sinner just because he is a chief tax collector? Tax were reviled by the Jews of Jesus' day because of their perceived greed and collaboration with the Roman occupiers. But how often can perception be skewed by our own prejudice?

In the direct translation to hearing these grumblings Zacchaeus says; “Look, Lord; I am giving half my possessions to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I’m giving it back fourfold.”

Unlike the NSRV the action is in present tense.  In spite of what people believe this man is walking the walk even from his position as a chief tax collector he is giving half of his possessions to the poor. 

 And if someone can show he has defrauded them he gives back with interest “Four-Fold”.

Jesus proclaims that salvation has come unto this house that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham!  He is a member of the family.  Even though the family had him set as an outsider Jesus proclaims the outside is in.

The last shall be first and the first shall be last.  We do not often think of the rich and the affluential as being the last.  But that is because we judge, we have divided, we have chosen who is us and who is them.  It is hard not to do.

Jesus said it would be harder for a rich man to enter into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle and yet here we stand Jesus has just thread that needle.

When we look at Zacchaeus and the rich ruler…

“the similarities, but mainly the contrasts  between the two characters are remarkable, particularly regarding the matter of wealth- the idolatry of one verses the freedom of the other, the sadness of the one verses the joy of the other…Zacchaeus’s response to Jesus illustrates that the miracle can occur, that the wealthy can gain freedom from possessions that possess them, just as the blind come to see, the lame to walk, the demon possessed to be restored , and the dead to be made alive.”[5]

There is an old hymn that says ;
I sought the Lord, and afterwards I knew
He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of thee.”[6]

I have asked many questions throughout his sermon. Most will remain unanswered by me.  For each of us must choose how we respond when Jesus calls us by name.  When Jesus invites himself into our house. It doesn’t matter what others think of you. It doesn’t even matter what you think of oyu.  How will you respond to Jesus?  With Joyfull hospitality or will you walk away sad?

Will you let Jesus thread that needle?

[1] Texts for Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Pr., 1994.
[4] King, Nicholas. The Bible: a Study Bible. Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew, 2013.

[5] Texts for Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Pr., 1994.
[6] Ditto

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