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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before October 30, 2016

Luke 19:1-10

19He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When 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.” 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

What I Am Learning:

Last week we heard a story about a Pharisee and a toll collector. A toll collector was a low-level tax agent who probably only did that work to feed his family.

This week we listen to a story about Jesus and a tax collector named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was probably a fairly high-level or chief tax collector, who oversaw many toll collectors.

This is the way taxes worked: Caesar would receive his payment at the beginning of the year from Herod. Herod would then receive his payments next from the chief tax collectors, and then the chief tax collectors would hire toll collectors to bring in the tax revenue.  The soldiers were around to make sure people paid.

At each level, they could charge people more money than they were supposed to. They had a high incentive to do this. This created a situation in which chief tax collectors like Zacchaeus, as well as the lower level toll collectors were very much hated. They provided the funds that paid for the Roman's occupation of their nation. Tax collectors were traitors to their own people. They participated in an unjust system and personally benefited from the injustice.

In Luke chapter three, John the Baptist was asked how people could live differently, how they could repent and live with more equity and justice and peace with each other.

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”  Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

Luke 3:10-14

Those tax collectors who responded to the kingdom of God that John and Jesus announced would not take more money than they should. Soldiers should not use their position of power to enrich themselves.

God's way of mutuality had everyday, economic implications.

We describe the kingdom of God or God's way of Mutuality like this:

God’s Way of Mutuality is God’s love, grace, and shalom in everyday life, in every aspect of human relationship: public, private, economic, political, personal and communal, body, mind and environment.

Jesus came into a village and saw the chief tax collector in the area and chose to go to his house. People were disgusted with his choice to go to his house. In that culture, you did not associate yourself with people below your status. Further, in peasant culture, if you got rich by any other means than increasing flocks or crops, you were a thief. Jesus chooses to hang out with a traitor and a thief. The people grumble about it.

After he chose to hang out with him, Zacchaeus tells Jesus that he gaves half of his possessions to the poor and if he (or one of his toll collectors) defrauded anyone, he paid them back 4 times as much.

The Greek does not say "will give." The Greek does not say that he will only do this in the future but that he has been acting justly in an unjust system and will continue to do so.

It is mistranslated to fit into our assumptions that only after talking with Jesus do people come to repent of their unjust actions.

This misses the point of the text. Zacchaeus was already living out the values of God's way of mutuality. But the people of his village did not recognize it. They were so angry at the system and those that participated in it that they could not see that this chief tax collector acted out of a deeper set of values. They blamed him unjustly for the unjust system he was a part of. He wasn't just short, he was short of friends.

After several stories about how God listens to the prayers of the marginalized in Luke, in this story Jesus honor the humanity and human values of some who are rich.

Jesus said that "salvation had come to his house." Remember that "salvation" means "healing." In this case, Jesus creates a situation in which the rich man can tell his story, share his values, and be reconciled to his community. Wherever people are alienated from one another, Jesus' healing work brings them back together again.

His holy imagination for the ways of God's healing salvation continues to live in us. May we see the world with Jesus' holy imagination for how God is bringing healing and creation to us all.