2 Thessalonians 1; Luke 19.1-10
eternal God, you have kindled the flame of love in the hearts of
the saints: grant to us the same faith and power of love, that, as
we rejoice in their triumphs, we may be sustained by their example
and fellowship; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
between the Old and New Testament readings is stark. Isaiah voices
God's complaint and argument against those who trample his courts;
Paul writes of God's grace and peace towards the Church. Isaiah
speaks of God's hiding his eyes from the people; Paul of God's
making the Christians worthy of his calling and fulfilling by his
power every good resolve and work of faith. Isaiah describes God's
hatred of the hollow rituals of the wayward people, while Paul
boasts of the Thessalonians' steadfastness and faith.
different ways, both provide commentaries on the familiar story of
Zacchaeus, whose way of life brought opprobrium, and who yet
received grace, and promptly began faithful works.
Zacchaeus's story a particular Gospel frame: last week, we heard of
a fictional tax-collector (Luke 18.9-14); now we meet a real one.
Earlier, Jesus had described an outcast woman as a daughter of
Abraham (Luke 13.16); and now he describes an outcast man as a son
recently recorded the parable of the rich man who spent his wealth
on himself (Luke 16.19-31), and described Jesus's encounter with a
rich ruler for whom selling his possessions and following Jesus was
too demanding (Luke 18.18-25).
Zacchaeus is a
contrast to both men. Here is a rich man, not just any despised
tax-collector, but a chief tax-collector. Unlike the rich ruler, he
does not need to be told what to do with his wealth, but volunteers
to give half his possessions to the poor, and to repay anyone he
has defrauded - thus vastly out-giving the Pharisee who boated
ostentatiously of giving one tenth.
There is urgency
in this encounter. In a culture where men neither ran in public nor
climbed trees, Zacchaeus did both. Then Jesus told him to hurry up
and come down because, remarkably: "I must stay at your house
today." No reason for the imperative is given. Luke has said that
Jesus was "passing through" Jericho, not stopping, but suddenly he
must spend time with Zacchaeus.
Jesus - on his
way to Passover in Jerusalem, where ceremonial cleanliness was
imperative - defiled himself by entering the house of a recognised
sinner. This was nothing unusual for Jesus, who had been criticised
for eating with tax-collectors and sinners when he ate with Levi,
another tax-collector who did not let his wealth come between him
and Jesus's call to follow him (Luke 5.27-31).
In Isaiah, God
rejected the people's sacrifices because they "trample his courts"
with their hollow offerings; in the Gospel, Jesus not only accepted
Zacchaeus's offering, he precipitated it. Unlike people who reached
out to Jesus in their need before he responded to them, here the
roles were reversed: had Jesus not acted, Zacchaeus, hiding in the
tree, would not have responded.
We pray for God
to kindle the flame of love in our hearts, so that we have the same
faith and power of love as the saints. The kindling in Zacchaeus's
life was Jesus's seeking and knowing acceptance of him. That
kindling welcome lit a fire of transformation of Zacchaeus's way of
life - just as, in the lives of the Thessalonians, God's grace
kindled steadfastness and faith in the face of persecution and
acknowledged Zacchaeus's conversion: "Today salvation has come to
this house." Zacchaeus would live the rest of his life discovering
the implications of this saving encounter, beginning by doing
voluntarily what John the Baptist had commanded as a sign of
repentance (Luke 3.7-14).
At the start of
his ministry, Jesus spoke of the Spirit's empowering him to
proclaim release to captives and freedom to the oppressed. In this
final story from Jesus's journey to Jerusalem, Luke records an
encounter in which release and freedom were offered and
Why "must" Jesus
eat with Zacchaeus? Perhaps because forcing him out of hiding to
host a dinner was the only way to enable Zacchaeus to realise that
he, too, was - in Paul's words - worthy of his call. One wonders:
who was the true host at this meal? George Herbert's words, from
"Love III", come to mind:
Love bade me
yet my soul
dust and sin . . .
sit down, says Love,
So I did
sit and eat.