Sunday, November 3, 2019

Jesus Wants Everyone

November 3, 2019 –– 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 11:22–12:2 / Psalm 145 / 2 Thessalonians 1:11–2:2 / Luke 19:1–10
Jesus Wants Everyone

When Jesus began his public ministry in Nazareth, he read from the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). And preach good news to the poor he did. Later Jesus sent an answer to John, who was in prison and wondering if Jesus was the One, saying, Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deafa hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor (7:22,23).

So it can be surprising that Jesus sought Zacchaeus. Luke tells us he was wealthy (v2). Not only was he wealthy, his wealth came through his collaboration with Rome; he was a tax collector. Here was a man who held in public opinion the place a drug dealer might have today. Here was a man opposite of the blind beggar in the previous story of Luke’s Gospel. Zacchaeus had power. He had advantages. He could buy almost anything he wanted. He was surrounded by comfort.

Just as Jesus had pronounced blessing on the poor, he had denounced the rich:
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry (6:24).

Jesus told horror stories about the rich (12:13ff and 16:19ff). He told the rich ruler to give everything away to the poor, and then commented on the man's reluctance by saying, How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! (18:23). Why did Jesus give attention to Zacchaeus?

Maybe it was because he was a tax collector. Anyone who was that despised by everyone else was especially needful of Jesus' compassion. In fact, Levi (or Matthew), one of the twelve disciples, had been a tax collector (5:27). Quite early in his Gospel Luke says that Jesus had a reputation of being a friend of tax collectors (7:34). And because of that, tax collectors made it a point to gather around Jesus (15:1).

The truth is, Jesus gave himself to anyone who would receive him. Jesus gave all kinds of people an opportunity. He ate with tax collectors, yes, but he also ate with Pharisees (7:36 and 14:1). The issue was not one of relative wealth, occupation or handicap. The issue was then what it is today, one of love and grace on Jesus' part, and one of acceptance or rejection on the part of others.

Zacchaeus took a first step toward Jesus by going out and climbing the tree. Whether wealthy or sinner of any kind, when someone takes the first step toward Jesus, he will offer his love and mercy. Zacchaeus recognized the need to respond to love and mercy, and he did. He gave away half his possessions to the poor and promised to make restitution for the many times he had cheated people. Jesus reaches out to all kinds of people, and the people who choose to follow Jesus show his grace in their lives in some demonstrable ways.

Notice that Zacchaeus gave only half his possessions away. Jesus' word to the rich ruler was to give everything away (18:22). Here is where we find differences. The issue of what to do with wealth did not even exist for the poor who turned to Jesus (like the blind in the previous story). Zacchaeus gave away half and it was enough. Paul wrote to Timothy to tell the rich not to trust in their wealth but to share (1 Tim 6:17-19), but in spite of that warning he does not categorically denounce the rich.

Maybe this is enough for us to begin to see something important about people who follow Jesus.  First of all, Jesus wants all kinds of people as his followers. He wants the poor. He wants the handicapped. He wants the people that much of society thinks is worthless. Jesus wants sinners  ––big sinners. He wants the kind of people who have collaborated with structural evil. He wants people who have used power to hurt others. He wants people whose manners and way of life are disgusting to normal people. Of course he wants them to change, but he wants them. The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.

Jesus wants people who are rich. He does not want rich people because of their money; he wants them in spite of it. He may tell some to give it “all” away; he will certainly have those with money who obey him give some of it away. And all of us, like Zacchaeus, need to give back to anyone we have wronged.

So whether one is a common worker or a corporate executive, a rich person or a poor person, a person with almost every advantage or a person with any kind of handicap, Jesus wants you. Whatever or whoever you are, Jesus wants you. But know this: when Jesus “has us” it will change us, as it changed Zacchaeus.

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