Jesus Invites Us to Share Love With One Another: Pentecost 21

Jesus Invites Us to Share Love With One Another: Pentecost 21

Year C, Proper 26, The Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost
October 30, 2022

Year C:  Habakkuk 1:1-4 Psalm 119:137-144; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4; Luke 19:1-10

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No one likes to pay taxes, especially when they are excessive. Our American Revolution was largely successful because of resistance to taxation imposed upon us by Great Britain without allowing us any representation in Parliament.

Although today’s passage centers around a tax collector, its primary message is familiar in the Gospels – Jesus saves yet another person who is lost. This time, however, the person is not on the margins, not ill, nor demon-possessed. Instead, Zacchaeus is both powerful and wealthy because he collects taxes for the Roman Empire.

We start with Jesus passing through Jericho to his destination of twelve miles away – Jerusalem. Jesus had visited Jericho earlier in his ministry and healed a blind man.[1]

Jericho was a very wealthy and vital city. It was geographically located with approaches to the river Jordan and the road to Jerusalem. Its cash crops lay in large balsam groves and a great palm forest. In addition, the Romans traded its dates and figs throughout the empire. This combined made Jericho one of Palestine’s largest income-producing taxation centers.

In this Gospel, we are introduced to Zacchaeus, who is described as a chief tax collector and rich. References to tax collectors frequently appear in the Gospels (just last week, we heard about a tax collector), but Zacchaeus is the only person with the title of chief tax collector. He is a ruler with subordinate tax collectors reporting to him.

Jewish residents of Palestine were required by their own religious laws to pay tithes and temple taxes, pay for animal sacrifices, and a farmer had to leave ten percent of their crops in the field after harvest to be gleaned by the poor. On top of all this, the Jewish people had to pay Rome numerous taxes, including income, import, export, crop, sales, and property taxes. If that wasn’t enough, special war taxes were imposed when Roman rulers wanted to wage war.

Jewish agents in the Jewish territory collected these taxes. These collectors were detested. They were considered traitors for both helping the pagan conqueror and for frequently defrauding their own people by collecting more money than was required of them and pocketing the rest. Zacchaeus had likely accumulated wealth from his tax collection and kickbacks from tax collectors in his charge.

It’s safe to say that Zacchaeus was likely one of the more disliked members of his community. He was rich but could not fully enjoy his wealth, shunned as he would have been by his people. I doubt that the synagogue was a place of refuge for Zacchaeus.

But Zacchaeus had heard about this rabbi, this teacher. So, he went to rather extraordinary lengths to see Jesus. He ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree to see.

We infer that Jesus had not met Jesus, but Jesus knew him by name. He looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”[2]

We’ve seen countless times in scripture where religious leaders and crowds resent Jesus’ radical outreach. It’s not different in today’s Gospel: “All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He had gone to be the guest of the one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus hurried down out of the tree and welcomed Jesus happily.

Last week, I said that Jesus’ parables are often about faith, miracles, or a mix of both. Here we have both,

Where’s the faith, you ask? What’s the miracle, you ask?

In the presence of the Lord, Zacchaeus became a changed man, from despised to loved.

Zacchaeus, in his joy, immediately pledged action in front of those gathered. “Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘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.”[3]

I’d say that qualifies as both faith and a bit of a miracle.

To fulfill the requirements of Jewish law, Zacchaeus would have had to pay back double for cheating people out of money,

As documented in the Books of Moses, Jewish law gave guidelines for restitution to be paid for cheating people out of their money. To fulfill these requirements, Zacchaeus would have had to pay back double. But he said, “if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Four times as much was only to be paid for money ill-begotten from violent robbery; nevertheless, Zacchaeus elected this most extreme remedy.

Zacchaeus was determined to do far more than the law demanded. He showed by his deeds that he was a changed man. This is as important as any other miracle stories we have read in Luke.

It’s doubly important because this story has one more core part. Jesus proclaims one of the core goals of his earthly ministry, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”[4]

A person is lost when they have wandered away from God. They are found when once again, they elect to take their rightful place as obedient children, with Jesus’ help, in the household, in the family, in the Kingdom of his Father.

What would we do if Jesus invited himself to stay at our homes? Would we panic because there is some clutter around, it needs a paint job, it needs a thorough cleaning, or it is not large enough? Would we worry that we had not food shopped? Would we worry that we do not know what food Jesus likes? Would Jesus eat takeout?

We don’t have to worry about any of this. And it’s not because Jesus isn’t coming over to see us. That is because Jesus is already there. Jesus invites himself every day, hour, minute, and second into our homes and lives. 

Like good hosts, we are called to extend hospitality to our honored guest. We are to ignore all distractions and sit quietly with Jesus; there, we would tell Jesus how much we love him, how grateful we are for his blessings, and ask how best to serve him. Jesus will answer us in ways that guide us to complete the work that God planned for us before we were born.

Like a good guest, Jesus brings us gifts. One of which is the same gift he brought to Zacchaeus’s home, the gift of joy.

I believe in God’s transforming, healing power in our lives, the transforming, healing power he showed Zacchaeus. Jesus strengthens us to enable us to imitate him in seeking out, comforting, and saving the lost. Some people are considered “lost” because they do not comply with so-called “norms.” They may be poor, unattractive, quirky, unhealthy, different ethnically, or painfully lonely. Yet, in seeking the company of these brothers and sisters, we may be surprised by how much we have in common and enriched by our differences.

This church is a miracle of love, joy, hope, and resurrection. We encounter Christ in the proclamation of the Gospel and Holy Communion every Sunday. I believe that salvation is in this house.

Jesus comes to us, in whatever circumstances, bringing healing and the Kingdom of God. Like Zacchaeus, we are called to invite him into our homes to serve him and his people.

There is unfathomable joy, peace, and wholeness in the love of Jesus Christ, who loved us first. This love is most fully experienced when we share it with one another.

[1] Cf. Luke 18:35, NRSV

[2] Luke 19:5, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[3] Luke 19:8, NRSV

[4] Luke 19:10, NRSV