Thursday, February 18, 2021
Too Often We See the Light of Christ
Through the Mesh and Mess of Our Shortcomings.
Still Christ’ Light Shines
In and Through Us
to All People!
He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant.’
When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’
Words of Grace For Today
When a king comes to town for a visit, unannounced (because there is no internet, or post, or telephone – either our past or our future) then we may want the king to stay with us, maybe.
First it would be life-death important to know how the king is disposed to us! If the king has come to find traitors and suspects us, will see what is not a betrayal, but something that the king will use as an excuse to vent his anger at being betrayed … well then obviously we might not want the king to come stay with us.
If the king, despite our ‘indiscretions’, is forgiving, and is favourably disposed to us, then it would be a great honour to have the kind stay with us.
Thus Abraham’s invitation seems understandable, “Come stay with us, if we have found favour with you.”
It’s a bit more complicated, since Abraham is sitting in a nomad’s tent, where the law of the desert, seldom ignored, is that out in the barren, isolated hard lands anyone seeking refuge from the heat and sands will be welcomed in, and welcomed in will be protected from all danger, even from one’s own desire for revenge if this is one’s enemy. As enemies go the desert is a greater enemy. Thus when three strangers stand in front of Abraham, who has made untold enemies in his journey up and down the golden tradeways from Ur to Egypt, Abraham may not know if they are enemies or not. He may be letting an enemy in three parts enter his tents, trusting the rule of hospitality will keep him safe, and will not put him in the middle of a fight these men have with others, others who may or may not honour the law of hospitality.
Perhaps Abraham hedges his bets, so to speak, and offers hospitality, if he has found favour with these three men.
Another piece of the complications is that this is not a known king, or just any passer-by either. This is three men. Not just men. Whether Abraham knows it or not the narrator tells us that this is the Lord, this is God. Three men are God. So not so simple, whether Abraham is in the know or not.
Perhaps Abraham really hedges all his bets, so to speak, and offers God hospitality, but only if he has found favour with God. What a way to find out where one sits with God! What a risk! What a wager Abraham makes, for if he has found favour with God and these three demonstrate to him he has, and others hear of it, Abraham’s reputation will increase immensely!
Pause a bit to notice in all these considerations I have led us to pass up one obvious thing: if these three strangers need hospitality, then they ought to be the one’s asking Abraham, ‘If we have found favour with you, sir, may we stop and rest within your hospitality.’
Stories about God’s interactions with us are always something different than we should expect.
Jesus’ story is one such unexpected development after another, always with a twist or seventy, to keep us on our toes about what we think Jesus is about and what God is trying to demonstrate to us with Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension.
Good people, travelling about as Jesus did, teaching in the synagogues and to the people (if the traveller teachers were honourable people) did not mix with dishonourable people. They avoided ‘unclean’ people because it made them unclean and therefore unable to enter the synagogue until they had completed the purification ritual that lasted days.
Reminds us of obligatory self-quarantine requirements of travellers and those with close contacts with people diagnosed with Covid-19!
Zacchaeus was anything but honourable. He collected taxes for Rome, able to exact from whomever whatever he wished in order to collect his allotment. He got to keep any extra he collected. Tax collectors were wealthy and hated; the preyed upon those from whom they could take the most with the least ability to protect themselves. They hardly collected from the influential and really wealthy people who could exact their own revenge against any tax collector taking anything but a token tax from them. Tax collectors were hated, really hated and really feared. One did not want to end up on the wrong side of a tax collector who could ruin you financially, or if you resisted, could have you jailed for debts.
Jesus interaction with Zacchaeus is exemplary of what Jesus demonstrates to us. Jesus does not stand at all on norms or expectations. Jesus stomps all over them, not to stomp on them but to point to something that norms and expectations violate: God’s unconditional love for everyone.
Again the invite is backwards, given by the one who ought to be the invitee. It would be Zacchaeus’ honour to host Jesus. Zacchaeus is more than curious about Jesus. He works to overcome his own shortcomings and short stature (real and figuratively) to get a view of Jesus. Zacchaeus should be inviting Jesus to stay with him, begging for the honour of Jesus’ presence in his ill-gotten and supplied home. – If you have not caught this in reading the Zacchaeus story, we are all equated to Zacchaeus; we should all be desperate to invite Jesus into our lives, and all we do is try to overcome our shortcomings and lack of standing in the Kingdom of God in order to get at least a glance of God’s own Son, Jesus. As if that is enough, or as if we actually could every overcome our shortcomings, our sins.
Instead Jesus is the one who sees Zacchaeus (us), and Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home (our lives). When Jesus arrives Zacchaeus is converted from a lost soul to one of Jesus’ followers. Zacchaeus moves from Jesus’ presence back into his own life … in order to make things right that he has made so wrong.
Jesus arrives in our lives (well we notice Jesus’ presence as an arrival even though he’s been there since before we were conceived – God is always with us!) and our first steps are to put things as right as we can in our lives, for those we have done harm to. Like Zacchaeus our putting things right for others is a good step toward doing ourselves something good too, not in order to gain something, but in response to being given everything, namely we have been given God’s favour.
Jesus will seem to arrive again and again in our lives. Today what are we going to put right in response to God’s greatest blessing, namely that God walks with us through everything, that Jesus has made his home in our lives, forgiving us our sins in order that we might forgiven all other people and make things as right as we can.
Lord, if we … no, that’s not how it goes for us that trust God walks with us. We say instead: ‘Lord, since we have found favour with you, and you abide with us, what can we do for you this day?!’