I. Theme – Seeking Transformation in our encounters with God.
"Zacchaeus" – Joel Whitehead
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
First Reading – Isaiah 1:10-18
Psalm – Psalm 32:1-8
Epistle – 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Gospel – Luke 19:1-10
Today’s readings explore the transformation that follows our encounters with God. Isaiah warns against empty religiosity and brings God’s promise of cleansing and purity. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul encourages steady faith that waits quietly for the transformation brought by Christ. In the gospel story, Jesus grants salvation to a wealthy man who responds to Jesus with repentance and generosity.
These stories look at how we worship. Do we celebrate internally forgetting the outside world and the needs of the world which Isaiah complained about ? Also we need to look at hospitality. Isaiah renames Jerusalem as Sodom and Gomorrah. Was it their inhospitality that earned the people of Jerusalem this insult? In Thessalonians the people have reacted incorrect to promises of Jesus second coming and have created problems in the church. Paul asks for their “steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.
Luke would have us look at the notions or hospitality, redemption, and inclusion. It is Jesus who demands hospitality, and it is Zacchaeus who gives it. Here the hospitality gives place to salvation and redemption, “Today salvation for this house has happened.”
Thus it is not riches that distinguish, nor is it poverty. It is the inviting in, it is the acceptance of “what I must do” as a sinner, a poor person, a wealthy person, or a person striving for righteousness, that sets the tone and the agenda. Jesus not only welcomes, but also is welcomed in. This dual standard is Luke’s call to his hearers to imitate Christ.
In the readings there is a call for the people to understand their sins, to acknowledge them and be forgiven which is part of the Psalms. Zacchaeus certainly does and decides he will live a changed life – give half his goods to the poor and to recompense generously those he might have defrauded/
First Reading – Isaiah 1:10-18
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed his message to Judah between 742 and 687 BC. During this period the northern kingdom, Israel, became part of the Assyrian empire and the southern kingdom of Judah lived precariously as a vassal state. The first five chapters of the book of Isaiah consist of oracles against Judah.
Today’s reading is a pronouncement against Judah for religious superficiality. Sacrifice and ritual are not in themselves condemned, but the conjunction of worship and injustice is intolerable to God. The people are more concerned with celebrating and having festivals than they are with caring for their fellow people. Look at the list of sins he provides: doing evil, (and if we look at the opposite, quit oppression, quit ignoring the orphan and the widow). These themes will be amplified and examined in detail.
God despises the lavish celebrations and instead desires justice for the poor, the oppressed, the widowed and the orphaned. If the people return to God and God’s ways, God will forget their sins. God invites the people to “argue it out,” knowing that God will win the argument and turn their hearts back.
True worship is characterized by sincerity of heart; true sincerity is characterized by obedience and compassion. Correct liturgy does not imply true worship. Ritual devoid of holiness offends God. Repentance brings reconciliation and forgiveness, but impenitence brings judgment.
Psalm – Psalm 32:1-8
Psalm 32:1-7 speaks of the freedom that forgiveness brings. In order to be forgiven, however, the psalmist had to acknowledge their sin. But God not only forgives, God is faithful and remains faithful.
This prayer of thanksgiving for God’s forgiveness divides naturally into six sections tracing the pattern of reconciliation: verses 1-2 are an introduction; verses 3-4 express the weight of guilt; verse 5 is a confession of sin; verses 6-7 offer sound advice.
It is a vision after the forgiveness, but also relates the process of coming to that forgiveness. The images are clear and helpful. The heavy hand, the summer-parched dryness, the weakness of the psalmist’s bones, all are evident so long as there is silence – a silence that does not admit to the sins that have been committed in the past. Then comes an important understanding. “Then I acknowledged…(then) I said.” This is not a noetic or cerebral understanding of sin. It is an admission of sin that comes from the mouth – is admitted in the real time of day – that can be heard by another. To this situation, God greets the psalmist with forgiveness, and the psalmist is surrounded with shouts of deliverance.
Epistle- 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
This reading is the first of three from 2 Thessalonians. Paul’s stay in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-10) was relatively brief, and he left the new congregation exposed to the attacks of local Jews and Gentiles. Timothy’s encouraging report of their steadfastness in faith led Paul to write 1 Thessalonians (c. AD 51). Presumably 2 Thessalonians was written a few months later in order to correct a misunderstanding of his teaching on the “day of the lord” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2).
In this reading, “Paul” greets the congregation along with his cohorts Silvanus and Timothy. There is a word of thanks for the congregation’s lively faith, and love of one another.
Second Thessalonians is a pastoral letter which addresses a number of problems that have arisen in a Christian community jolted by the claim that the "day of the Lord" [in this context, Jesus’ second coming] has come upon them. Some in this community have reacted in terror, quit work, and are making a general nuisance of themselves to others within the community as they await the full effect of the Lord’s coming. Somme members of the church there that dispute Paul’s teaching about living and working soberly.
Paul reminds the Thessalonians of the need to give thanks, even in persecution, for God is increasing their faith and love. The reading then moves into a brief prayer for the community’s’ sanctification through the cooperation of God’s initiative in grace and of their human actions.
Then Paul begins his further teaching on the return of Christ, which apparently some believed had already happened. This echoes Christ’s own predictions of how people would use this confidence for personal gain. Paul discourages an alarmist mentality that disrupts the normal activities of life.
Gospel – Luke 19:1-10
Luke 19:1-10 tells the story of Zacchaeus who climbed a tree to see Jesus. We are missing part of the story—it seems that Jesus and Zacchaeus have met before, and that Zacchaeus has changed his life because of his encounter with Jesus, and that others do not see the change that Zacchaeus has gone through.
Throughout Luke’s gospel we have become accustomed to Jesus’ socializing with outcasts: the poor, the prostitutes, the physically disabled. So it comes as something of a surprise when the protagonist in today’s reading is a wealthy man. Zacchaeus is great in terms of his personal wealth, but he is small in stature, and small in the eyes of the community that judges his moral standards
Jericho was a major trade center and thus also a center for the collection of customs. Zacchaeus risks ridicule and perhaps violence out among the crowds. When Jesus discerns the diminutive Zacchaeus, he asks that the tax collector come down because “I must stay in your house today.” Jesus makes the decisive gesture of inviting himself to dinner, thus offering Zacchaeus a fellowship denied to him by others. Here the crowd complains that Jesus is so willing to make company with an obvious sinner
Zacchaeus, meaning “innocent” or “clean” may be a story to tell us that what doesn’t seem acceptable, clean or pure to us may be to God. This story, however, clearly shows us that Jesus delighted in people who were seen as despicable by others. And what makes someone despicable is not always what they do, but the fact that we look for something to despise others by. The people didn’t believe that Zacchaeus had changed because then they would have to change their minds.
We don’t know what Zacchaeus was like before, but Jesus clearly liked him in this moment, and Zacchaeus has become a generous person. Not in fulfillment of a rule, but in joyous and thankful response, Zacchaeus vows to give half his goods to the poor and to recompense generously those he might have defrauded. Zacchaeus chooses the most extreme repayment penalty prescribed by the law.
Jesus recognizes his attempts to live a righteous life. In answer both to him and to the murmurers, Jesus points out that even an outcast may receive and respond to “salvation,” the presence of the kingdom in the person and message of Jesus. Through his repentance and faith, Zacchaeus became a true son of Abraham, walking in the ways of his forefather.
Jesus can read Zaccahaus needs of longing. He blesses this tree-climber before Zacchaeus ever says a word. Jesus’ response far exceeds Zacchaeus’s expectations. He wanted a glimpse; he got a guest. Again, this outrageous divine generosity mirrors our experience. Those who venture even a step into regular prayer or the service of others voice a similar response: “I got much more than I gave!&r