“Welcome the Outcast”
October 30, 2016
Luke 19: 1-10
Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
This passage is best understood by viewing its content in the overall context. To understand the background information helps us interpret the meaning of the passage and is a description of the Jewish tax collectors, with whom Jesus was speaking and teaching when interrupted by the grumbling and complaining of the Pharisees concerning these men.
Tax collectors mentioned in the context were employed by the Roman government. They were wealthy men, usually Jewish, who contracted with the Roman government to be responsible for the taxes of a particular district of the imperial Roman state. These tax collectors would often be backed by military force.
By sharp contrast, the tax collectors to which the New Testament refers were employed by the Romans to do the actual collecting of monies in the restricted areas where they lived. These men were Jews, very wealthy, who could be seen in the Temple. And they were undoubtedly familiar to the people from whom they collected taxes.
These tax collectors gathered several different types of taxes. Rome levied upon the Jews a land tax, a poll tax, even a tax for the operation of the Temple. The distinctions between the kinds of rule, which a given province received, dictated what type of taxes its people had to pay. Some provinces, like Galilee, were not under an imposing form of government and therefore the taxes collected stayed in the province, instead of being forwarded to the royal treasury at Rome.
The tax collectors were despised by their fellow Jews, especially the Pharisees and scribes, whose pockets were frequently pinched because they owned land. Tax collectors were castigated by them as “especially wicked sinners.. probably because they were allowed to gather more than the government required and then to pocket the excess amount. John the Baptist dealt with this issue when he urged tax collectors to gather no more money than they should (Luke 3:12-13). Also, tax collectors were hated because their fellow countrymen viewed them as a para-government, private militia, working for Rome, whom they considered to be foreign oppressor of the Jewish people.
Jesus, however, set a new precedent among the Jews by accepting and associating with the tax collectors. He ate with them (Mark 2:16), showed them mercy and compassion (Luke 19:9), and he even chose a tax collector (Matthew) as one of His twelve disciples (Matthew 9:9). Jesus fellowshipped impartially with the tax collectors, and he contrasted their willingness to repent of their sins to the arrogance and pompous attitudes of the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes.
This scripture, the story of Zacchaeus, and is one of the many stories that speak to the mission Jesus proclaimed….welcoming what were considered “outsiders”. In Luke 4: 18 – 19, the central theme is that Jesus is the one who is sent to express God’s salvation for all people. And the storyteller of Luke was not speaking of an “otherworld” salvation. He was talking about salvaging and saving people on the earth at the time of Jesus and in his culture. Jesus’ mission was directed to the poor, women, sick people and all other “outsiders” who needed to hear about God’s love and acceptance of them.
In this experience, we see that Jesus is focusing on one who is an outcast among his own people….a hated tax collector. It is a story that focuses on and reflects one of our church’s enduring principles: “Worth of All Persons”, In this story, redemption and salvation transform the life of Zacchaeus and release in him a radical generosity for the welfare of others.
As the chief tax collector Zacchaeus was likely one of the most despised people in the village. He was despised because he profited by collecting taxes from the Jews for the Roman government. Jews who worked for the invaders, the occupying Romans, were viewed as traitors. Tax collectors often took advantage of the citizenry in ways that had a crushing impact on their lives and continued the cycle of poverty because they added taxes to the basic Roman tax to line their own pockets.
In his enthusiasm to meet Jesus, Zacchaeus put his self-image at risk as he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a tree. In that culture, grown men did not run or climb trees. So why was he willing to make a spectacle of himself?
Zacchaeus was obviously yearning for something more in his life than what he had. He had to be lonely and isolated. The story reached a critical point of tension when both Zacchaeus and Jesus made themselves vulnerable to one other when Jesus made a public statement that he would go to Zacchaeus’ home. Everyone there must have gasped! That was a powerful moment when once again Jesus himself lived his mission as he engaged in a relationship with one who was considered a sinner and an outsider.
In this expression of love and acceptance, Zacchaeus encountered the divine redemption and grace that Jesus reflected. The wealthy but empty life Zacchaeus lived was transformed and a new expression of radical generosity was born. The one who contributed to oppressing the Jews was now living generously and engaging in acts of social justice for the poor. His life-changing discovery of a relationship with Jesus broke open Zacchaeus’ heart and genuine generosity flowed.
The custom of providing voluntary compensation in that culture was to return the original amount plus 20%. Compulsory compensation called for doubling the original amount. But Zacchaeus would do more. He would return four times the original amount. Instead of giving ten percent, Zacchaeus offers 50% of his wealth.
This story is a good example of how Jesus’ mission made it possible for what were considered “outsiders” to experience healing, wholeness, and a new way of belonging. The story challenges the social mindset that having money is what makes one happy, or is a sign of success. What makes one happy is all about feeling God’s grace and acceptance, through the actions of loving people… which, in turn… makes it possible for all “outsiders” to discover their fullest potential in the mission of Jesus.
When we live from this place of growing awareness of God in our lives, our generosity is released and we can join in the mission Jesus illustrated for us. And when all people discover who they really are and their true potential, then salvation in all of its dimensions ---in the present life and in their social and spiritual lives… have the potential to become real.
Justice for those who are poor and disadvantaged was the mission Zacchaeus committed his life to… as Jesus lived his mission into the heart of Zacchaeus.
So, how has our personal encounter with God released in us a radical generosity that we can extend to others? We can do much in little ways. Visiting a nursing home to bring some sense of community into the lives of those who live there is one way some do it. Sharing our friendship with those who are lonely may be another. Mowing the yard of someone who is unable to do it for themselves would be another. Sharing food or dessert with a lonely person could be another. There are hundreds of ways to welcome what we may think of as an “outcast” of our society.
Our congregation has evidently decided that the mission of Jesus is the mission we want to adopt. We often look for new ways to be servants for others. Our upcoming shoebox project is just one, our ongoing food basket is another. Adopting a single mother and her children at Christmas time can be another. Buying school supplies for low income children in August is another of our projects. And those we choose to share with are not always outcasts. Sometimes the smallest generosity and acceptance is greatly appreciated.
One type of outcast we sometimes encounter as a church is the gay member. Many people consider them to be sinners instead of simply of a different orientation. The LDS church has considered them worthy only of hell and their families as well. Ad Diane explained last Sunday, our World Church has set up a group for “seekers” to welcome them into our congregations. We are attempting to be a church to welcome the outcasts of our day.
Our World Church is struggling to make their budget as the membership ages and shrinks. But after hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, they chose to send thousands of dollars to help the people of Haiti to recover. During the 2007 flood here in Coffeyville, right in the midst of one of the worst recessions in our history, the church sent us several thousand dollars to help those who had been flooded out to deal with their recovery. And sometimes the outcast is only an outcast in their own eyes. Perhaps, at times, we have been the “outcast” ourselves.
We are a welcoming congregation. Let us look for ways to follow Jesus’ example and welcome everyone….even the outcast.
There are big ways we can extend ourselves to others and there are small ways to illustrate our desire to be even more welcoming. We only need to look around us for opportunities.