Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Luke 19:1-10
November 3, 2013
On All Saints Sunday I appreciate the opportunity to remember with thanks those from our midst who have gone ahead of us. Following the New Testament, we consider all who have trusted Jesus to be saints, not just an elevated elite.
Nevertheless, we all know certain folk whose faith stands out and inspires. Think of someone you know personally whom you consider a most exemplary, spiritual Christian. This needs to be someone you know, not a public celebrity, not an historical or biblical character. I’d even exclude pastors as our public personas can be misleading. Do you have one person in mind? What qualities made you select them? How do you think they got that way? I suggest your answers as stimulating Twitter material.
Next a harder question. Can you think of someone whose spiritual credibility you initially dismissed, only to later discover significant depth of faith? Some of you may remember on September 1 I told about Bill Goodhart, the homeless man who engaged me in conversation about his contemplative life and the writing of Thomas Merton.
Today we encounter the very familiar story of Zacchaeus. When we think we know the story, gaining fresh insights can be difficult. Today bullying is getting a lot of attention, and not just for children. Adults give and receive bullying too. Ask yourself if Zacchaeus might have been a victim of bullying?
To help us hear Luke 19:1-10 fresh, I’m going to tell it from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message. You may wish to follow along in the pew Bible on page 100 for comparison.
1-4 Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho. There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.
5-7 When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.” Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”
8 Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.”
9-10 Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”
A number of commentaries from a variety of backgrounds point out that neither Jesus nor Luke said anything about Zacchaeus repenting or quitting tax collecting. They also observed that the verbs in Zacchaeus’ response are present tense, though most English translations make them future tense. Also you may remember that Luke often used the word “crowd” when a group around Jesus was out of sync with him, which Luke does in v. 3. I am not suggesting that the conclusions drawn from these observations are necessarily correct, but I offer them to enrich and stimulate your thinking about Zacchaeus.
All through Luke we have been seeing how Jesus welcomed the poor who were outcasts. Now we see Jesus welcome a wealthy outcast and scapegoat.
With the verbs in present tense, Zacchaeus may have been saying that all along he was giving away half of his income to the poor. And not that he was purposely cheating, but when he miscalculated someone’s taxes, he paid them four times the error.
Jesus introduced Zacchaeus to the crowd saying, “He too is a son of Abraham.” He belongs to the same community you claim to. He’s one of you, even though you treat him as a scapegoat for your being under Roman occupation.
Like Abraham, whom God blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3), Zacchaeus gave away his wealth to bless poor folk, and he corrected abuses of the tax system at his own expense. By calling Zacchaeus a son of Abraham, Jesus wasn’t just saying he’s gotten on the right track now, he was telling the crowd that Zacchaeus was living by his faith as Abraham did. (Genesis 15:6)
Habakkuk 2:4 says that the righteous (or just) live by their faith (maybe better, faithfulness).
In the context of God’s answer to Habakkuk’s complaint, this line can fly by almost unnoticed, but it shows up three times in the New Testament at the core of the Gospel: Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38.
Whether Zacchaeus had already been living by his faith or began to live by his faith when Jesus encountered him, Jesus declared him a son of Abraham, who is the model of biblical faith. As is clear from Habakkuk and from Zacchaeus, faith is a lot more than agreeing to some correct information about God and ourselves. Faith is the totality of our lives. But it is not a works-righteousness by which we appease God. Rather is a whole way of life integrated around trusting God through Jesus.
So, whether or not Zacchaeus changed at this point, by calling him a son of Abraham, Jesus called the community to live by their faith and receive Zacchaeus as one of their own. Salvation for the community of faith comes when we recognize righteous scapegoats and receive them as one of our own.
Our question may not be, “How are we like Zacchaeus? How can we become heirs of Abraham?” but “How are we like the crowd? Who are our Zacchaeuses whose righteousness and faith we can recognize and receive them as one of us?”
Recognizing and receiving our Zacchaeuses as one of us starts with recognizing ourselves as scapegoats who live by our faith. The testimonies we heard this summer were wonderful witness to how God, sometimes through this congregation, transformed scapegoats into heirs of Abraham. I’d like to keep having a testimony about once a month in worship. If you’re ready see Regina or me.
Habakkuk opened his complaint to God by asking, “How long?” On this interim journey, with the possibility of more cooperation if not merger with Bethany Christian Church, many fresh ideas for reaching out to the people of Odessa are bubbling up. As we go from week to week, we can be impatient for faster progress, maybe even get discouraged. We need to hear God’s answer to Habakkuk in 2:3, “There is still a vision for the appointed time. Wait for it; it will surely come!”
One of the perennial issues of church growth is how to engage in authentic evangelism and not just shuffle Christians from one congregation to another. Dynamic preaching and razzle-dazzle music may entice some church members to switch congregations, but the unchurched and de-churched people around us don’t notice. Spiritually hungry people respond to authentic relationships and fearless engagement with their struggles. Our Disciples of Christ movement arose in the revivalist environment of the Second Great Awakening that emphasized a moment of conversion. Today, people with little if any church experience respond to relationships in a community that welcomes they with love. As they experience the reality of Christ’s presence and are exposed to the Gospel lived in relationships, they discover that they have decided to trust Jesus and become his disciples. That kind of evangelism happens with hospitality that intentionally invites and includes those may not seem like they are one of us into the middle of our shared life in Jesus. Salvation for the community of faith comes when we recognize righteous scapegoats and receive them as one of our own.