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Jesus Welcomes the Oppressor, Part 2 [Taste & See #5]

Taste & See - Sermon #6 - Jesus Welcomes the Oppressor, Part 2

Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • June 12, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor

 

Preamble

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community.

Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for you and for the gift of God that you bring with you into this space. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!

Last week, we entered the story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus. This healing takes place as Jesus approaches Jericho on his way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with this disciples. Before healing Bartimaeus, Jesus asks him a question,

 

41“What do you want me to do for you?”

 

I think Jesus is asking a rather serious question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Implicit in that question is another one, “Are you ready to accept the consequences of what you want?” It’s like what Jesus says, if you want to live, you must be willing to die? “The life that I’m offering,” Jesus says, “means you have imagine a reality that you cannot see, but already exists–a kingdom that is unfolding in your midst.” “But first you have to repent, you have to give up your way of life and accept mine,” Jesus says. “You will have to abandon everything you know, and be born again. It’s the only way you enter the kingdom, you must become like a little child.” See, it will cost all of us something to follow Jesus. And in one sense, Jesus is respecting Bartimaeus, not forcing healing on him, allowing him to choose, and therefore accept the consequences of his choice.

 

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied. (Luke 18:40–41)

 

Bartimaeus is healed. The crowd was also present during this entire exchange. Just off screen, at first they rebuke Bartimaeus for bothering Jesus. Then Jesus conscripts the crowd into serving him by asking the crowd to bring Bartimaues to him. Finally, the crowd rejoices at the sign of the kingdom in their midst–the healing of blind Bartimaues. I want to you hold the response of the crowd in your mind as we continue on this morning with the second part of this story.

 

After healing Bartimaeus, Jesus continues on his way to Jerusalem by passing through Jericho.

 

1Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. (Luke 19:1-4)

 

Luke wants us to catch something that might seem trivial to us, Jesus was only passing through Jericho. Jesus didn’t have any plans to stay the night in Jericho. Why is this important to Luke? For Luke it helps shape what happens as Jesus enters the city. See, some scholars believe that the people of Jericho were hoping to host a banquet to get Jesus to hang out a little longer, maybe teach them a thing or two, or perform some more miracles and reveal the kingdom in their midst. But Jesus was set for Jerusalem. He was a man on a mission. He had to get Jerusalem because he was eager to celebrate the Passover with his friends. Many of us know how that story goes, a table was set, friends were invited, a meal prepared, a retelling of a familiar story, yet this retelling deviates and infused with new meaning. Luke wants us to know that what happens next is unplanned and spontaneous, just like the healing of Bartimaeus. When Jesus is present, he is present and sees.

 

1Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. (Luke 19:1-4)

 

As Jesus is making his way through Jericho, a tax collector, Zacchaeus tries to get a look at Jesus. Now, any of us who have studied this text or had the story told to us may have had your version of the story focus on Zacchaeus’ height. Yes, he was a short guy, there’s nothing wrong with being short, I’m just saying! So, Zacchaeus had to run ahead and climb the sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus. What the story-tellers sometimes miss is Zacchaeus was not only short, he was also hated.

 

As we enter into the text we have to remind ourselves of the culture in which we receive the story. Zacchaeus was a hated other, he was a tax collaborator with Rome. Instead of fighting the occupying force, he joined with those who were actively oppressing and subjugating his people. And Luke makes a point of telling us that Zacchaeus was wealthy. The fact that Zacchaeus was rich is an indication that he was likely cheating his people to enrich himself. He was, what we might call, a sinner!

 

Just like Matthew, the tax collector, who later became a disciple of Jesus, Zacchaeus is despised and hated. Zacchaeus and his family were considered unclean.

 

Let me push in here for a moment...

This meant that he and family were excluded from fellowship with other Jews. They were prevented from participating in the worship life of the community. Any charitable gifts they made, were rejected and returned to them. Catch this, the tax collector was so hated in the culture that lyinga 10 commandment violation, was condoned because Zacchaeus was a tax collector.

 

The hatred went deep.

 

Finally, any attempt to atone for his sins in the temple was blocked and prevented therefore keeping Zacchaeus in a perpetual state of brokenness, sinfulness, and exclusion.

 

5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. (Luke 19:5–6)

 

Remember that the beginning of this passage Luke notes that Jesus was just passing through Jericho, yet here, we see Jesus stopping, addressing Zacchaeus by name and requesting to stay with Zacchaeus. It’s almost like when Jesus stops, and called the beggar over to him.

 

When Jesus is present, he is present and he sees.

 

There are some implications in this story that are worth considering. First, Zacchaeus is a sinner and a tax collector, so he’s considered unclean. And in the first century, Jews had a strict set of guidelines that governed their daily lives including what someone who is considered “clean” could do with someone who was considered “unclean.” The closest analog for me is the segregated south. There was a clearly defined, understood, and mostly followed set of guidelines for how blacks and whites interacted with each other. In one sense, there were lots of people who felt that this ordering of their daily life kept the peace and was the best course of action to avoid race mixing. For the modern reader, the “cleanliness” and “unclean” rules may seem childish and petty, but we should remind ourselves that segregation in our country only officially ended 60 years ago, and we find that our country and especially our public schools remain largely segregated with regards to ethnicity and income-level. Did you know that Ann Arbor is the 8th most economically segregated city in America?

 

So as we enter into the text here, we might need to lean towards those who were held in captivity being ruled by pagan rulers who were crushing them. They wanted their oppression to end and the best plan they had was a strict adherence to the Law of God. The idea was, “If we are observant, holy, righteous, effectively good, then God will intervene in our situation and throw off those oppressing us.” Yet, Jesus, who claimed to be Rabbi sent from God, was disrupting the apple cart by doing what was prohibited, eating, associating with, and being entertained by sinners. Under this understanding, Jesus eating with sinners would delay God’s response to intervene. If you wanted God to intervene, then you had to join with the law keepers to ensure that the law was being kept. Second, how did Jesus, short of using his Son of God magic powers, know who Zacchaeus was? Here’s an answer that doesn’t invoke his superpowers: Jesus knew because both he and the crowd could see Zacchaeus in the tree and given that Zacchaeus was the hated other, you can imagine with me that insults, taunts, and jeers hurled at Zacchaeus by the crowd. Jesus decides to call Zacchaeus down from his tree and invite himself over for dinner.

 

Now, remember, the crowd had just a moment ago praised and worshipped God because of the healing of blind Bartimaeus. Now, they turn on Jesus.

 

7All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:7)

 

How could the crowd turn on Jesus so quickly? (What might that have felt like?) They turn on Jesus because he isn’t doing what they expect him to do.

 

Here let me try to capture what the crowd may have wanted Jesus to say:

 

Zacchaeus, you are a sinful collaborator! You’ve turned your back on your people your God and your self. Don’t you realize that you are working against God? You have been an oppressor for these good people, don’t you see it? You are oppressing the people by draining them of these resources to line your own pockets. You wicked man! And let me tell you, the community’s hatred of you is justified, you should be grateful that they haven’t killed you because they would be justified in that action. Hey, here’s what you must do, you have to break your alliance with Rome, quit your job, repent, follow me to Jerusalem so that you might be purified, then when you return home, you must follow the Law, Zacchaeus. What’s more you must make amends to the people you have wronged, you must pay restitution. If you do all of this by the next time I pass through Jericho, I will enter your “clean” newly purified and offer you my praise and acceptance.

Yet Jesus doesn’t say any of this, instead he accepts Zacchaeus as he is. There is again, “the acceptance paradox.” Zacchaeus, worthy to put to death, is accepted. A sinner, accepted and loved. Someone despised and hated, accepted. A traitor, accepted. One of us, accepted.

 

What Jesus was proposing, having dinner with Zacchaeus and staying the night with him, was unimaginable. This action would make Jesus unclean by association and would have a negative impact on Jesus like preventing him from participating in the temple.

 

7All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:7)

 

Isn’t it interesting that in the story of the blind beggar, the crowd was at first hostile, but then expressed their joy and delight at the beggar’s healing–this was their approval of Jesus’ healing grace and mercy. Yet in this story that same crowd refuses to extend that same approval to Jesus as he engages this hated “other.” The community shuts Jesus out when he decides to fellowship with Zacchaeus. It’s almost as if Jesus is shifting the hatred the crowd has for Zacchaeus onto himself. Is this a type and shadow of what Jesus will demonstrate on the cross when he takes on the powers (evil, sin, and death) to free us from their captivity?

 

It’s striking that Jesus doesn’t side with the crowd, and he doesn’t endorse Zacchaeus’ oppression either, yet in this culture, it was guilt by association. What Jesus does is he loves Zacchaeus. Sit with that for a moment.

 

There’s this theological concept that I love called “hermeneutic of love.”

 

Let me unpack that for a moment, here’s the basic idea...

“In love…the lover affirms the reality and the otherness of the beloved. Love does not seek to collapse the beloved into terms of itself…one becomes fully oneself when losing oneself to another. In the fact of love both parties are simultaneously affirmed.”

 

What does it mean to be accepted and loved? Well, Luke gives us insight, accepted, instead of rejected, here’s how Zacchaeus responds to love:

 

8But 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.” 9Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:8-10)

 

Zacchaeus accepts his new found status as one who is loved and he repents. It’s exactly like what we see in the story of the blind beggar. When the beggars sees himself as Jesus does, he repents. He accepts Jesus as Lord. Zacchaeus does the same thing as he accepts the Good Shepherd who has found him! He rejoices by surrendering. This is powerful. This is what love does.

 

We are going to stop right here and I’ll pick up the rest of this passage and this sermon next week.

 

Practical Tips:

Today, I have two practical tips.

 

1.) Let’s follow Zacchaeus and acknowledge our need for salvation by joining our voices together in prayer:

 

Jesus of Nazareth, I acknowledge my thirst for what you have to give. I surrender myself to you, wholly and entirely - what was, and is, and is to come. Plunge the wrongs I have done and the wrongs done to me into your fathomless mercy. Receive me as I am today. Make me what I am meant to be, and let me walk in the path of your new creation.  Amen

 

2.) One of the things that will prevent us from following Jesus through the narrow gate into life is our sins. In Luke 11:4, Jesus instructs us to ask God to forgive us our sins. It’s a way for us to have solidarity with both the oppressed and the oppressors. Like Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus, we are all sinners, we all miss the mark from time to time. It’s also a way for our to identify with our need for forgiveness. Use the spiritual discipline of confession to become mindful of our own neediness because of our sinfulness. A helpful guide is available at:

 
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