Fig Trees & Fickled People
A priest was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life. They honored him and when he would visit a nearby village they would ask him to bless them while complimenting him as being a great man. The holy man would simply respond “is that so?” In the area there was an unwed, beautiful girl whose parents owned a food store. One day the daughter shocked her parents with the news that she was pregnant! Her mother and father were devastated and demanded to know who had dishonored their daughter. Embarrassed, she did not want to say. Her lover, and the father of her child, was a stock boy at her parent’s food store and fled in fear of his life. Finally, after much harassment, she named the priest as the baby’s daddy. The parents were irate, going to the priest’s home and accusing him of being a vile, dirty, disgusting old man! “Is that so?” was his only response.
The parents kicked the daughter out of her home. Discovering she was homeless the priest invited her to stay with him him until the child was born. The priest took care of her and never asked why she had brought this trouble upon him. Every time he went into the village he was mocked and cursed, accused of being a pervert, unholy, sinful and wicked. The priest always responded, “is that so?” Even after the child was born he allowed the young mother to continue to live with him in spite of the constant ridicule.
After a year, the stock boy, the real father, returned to the village, confessed his deceit and cowardice and asked the parents for their daughters hand in marriage. News quickly spread and soon the priest’s reputation was restored. The next time he visited the village people lined the streets to apologize, beg for mercy and tell him what a wonderful person he was because of how he took care of the unwed mother and her child. All he said was: “Is that so?” The priest understood reputations, like people, are flicked.
19v1He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 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.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus 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.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Here’s what’s happening in out text…
Throughout the Gospel of Luke Jesus something unexpected seems to happen when Jesus comes onto the scene. Right place, right time, something unexpected. Isn’t that like God? We want to be in the right place at the right time for the expected, God, as usual, does it the other way around.
Zacchaeus doesn’t know it, but he’s about to become a star! Not a star in his own right but a star in Jesus’ upside down, least of these kingdom. Jesus is popular and people flock to him. Zacchaeus is hiding in a tree! How does Jesus even see him? As usual, Jesus is looking for the least of these, the ones that don’t fit in, the ones who aren’t welcome. The ones others don’t want to be around are the ones Jesus is looking for.
Chapter 18 of the Gospel of Saint Luke, has Jesus doing and saying amazing things. From healing the blind to predicting his death Jesus has kept the disciples, the religious leaders and the rubberneckers on edge while making his way to Jerusalem.
19v1 Jesus was going through the city of Jericho. 2 In Jericho there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a wealthy, very important tax collector. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was. There were many others who wanted to see Jesus too.
Chapter 19 tells us Jesus arrives at Jericho and is passing through. Remember, since Luke 9:51, Jerusalem is the destination. Luke even tells us Jesus is “passing through.” In other words he’s not taking his “sweet time” he’s moving on. Even though he’s not “stopping to smell the roses” there is a crowd. Everywhere he went there were those who needed to be healed, wanted to hear what he had to say, wanted to see what he was going to do. The closer he came to Jerusalem, the more heavily populated the area, the larger the crowds grew.
In Jericho there was a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus who was large in terms of money but small in terms of stature. This tax boss had many who worked under him and collected funds from a large area. This means he was very unpopular with a lot of folk. He couldn’t go too many placed where people weren’t cursing under their breaths, turning their faces in disgust, and wishing a series of unfortunate events to visit him.
A chief tax collector was employed by the Roman government to collect a certain amount of money. Anything over this amount was the collector’s business as long as Rome got their share. Last week in Luke 18:9-14 we met another tax collector who would be employed by a chief tax collector such as Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus IS rich. Zacchaeus is NOT popular. He might not have reached into the pockets of the people but his hands were just as dirty. His wealth, by seemingly dishonest gain, would put him on the “do not associate with” list of almost everyone. Zacchaeus had a reputation of dishonest, untrustworthy and wicked. Luke 18 shows us tax collectors were isolated and viewed with disgust.
How Zacchaeus became a tax collector and the pariah of his area we don’t know. We do know he was tops in his chosen field because he was a chief collector and rich. Often, people who feel small want to do big things. They want to be large in peoples’ eyes and push themselves to excel. This might be the driving force behind Zacchaeus’ success.
So, when Jesus came to Jericho, this small man, who wanted to be big in people eyes, scaled a tree. Why? There might be sharp elbows in this crowd or something much more sharp and deadly. At the very least no room was made for him. Zacchaeus, being who he was, found a way to rise above it all.
19v3 Zacchaeus tried to see who Jesus was. But Zacchaeus was a small man, and he couldn’t see Jesus because of the crowd. 4 So Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a fig tree to see Jesus, who was coming that way. 5 When Jesus came to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down! I must stay at your house today.”
Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was, in other words he was rubbernecking with the rubberneckers. He didn’t know who Jesus was but Jesus knows him. Jesus “looks up.” The Greek word is anablepo which brings the image of lifting one’s head to heaven or having an idea. Zacchaeus is busted! No highfalutin, society type should be climbing trees! This is embarrassing but Zacchaeus couldn’t help himself.
19v5 When Jesus came to where Zacchaeus was, he looked up and saw him in the tree. Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, hurry! Come down! I must stay at your house today.”
Jesus singles him out and reveals him to the whole crowd, calls him by name, “Zacchaeus! Get down out of the tree I’m going to your house today!” and, as a child being scolded by his parents, scurries down. The tension is on the rise. Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector. A job ripe for bribery and thieving. He is an enemy of the common folk. People just plain don’t like him and Jesus just invited himself to his big house, eating his scrumptious food, enjoying his many luxuries, that were paid for by the very people watching this exchange take place. Trouble is a’ brewing.
19v5-7 …Zacchaeus (was) delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone (else) who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”
1 startling invitation, 2 very different reactions. In one declaration, Jesus accepts Zacchaeus and alienates the crowd. One made to feel loved and included by Jesus while others distance themselves from Jesus. Jesus’ love and acceptance ticks off his once doting admirers. This tax collector, who would not be welcome in most homes, now has the honor of having Jesus in his. By going to Zacchaeus’ home, sitting down and eating with him, Jesus is legitimizing his place in society and among the family of God.
Zacchaeus understands what Jesus is doing and so does the crowd. How quickly they turn. A portent of the shift from Palm Sunday where he was welcomed to Good Friday where he was jeered and given over to crucifixion.
Jesus knows, as Emily Dickinson once quipped,
“Fame is a fickle food upon a shifting plate.”
They begin to grumble, complain, raise their voices. “How dare he? Doesn’t he know? Doesn’t he care? If he knew who this was, what he did…” Sounds suspiciously similar to Luke chapter 7, when a…
7v36 A Pharisee invited Jesus to have dinner with him, and Jesus went to his house and sat down to eat. 37 In that town was a woman who lived a sinful life. She heard that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house, so she brought an alabaster jar full of perfume 38 and stood behind Jesus, by his feet, crying and wetting his feet with her tears. Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them, and poured the perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee saw this, he said to himself, “If this man really were a prophet, he would know who this woman is who is touching him; he would know what kind of sinful life she lives!”
As the crowd rakes Zacchaeus’ reputation over the coals he argues in favor of himself. In many translations the future tense of the verbs “I will give, I will pay” but the tense is present, “I do give, I do pay.” Zacchaeus is trying to convince Jesus of what he is already doing!
The Message Bible translation does a great job in translating this verse:
19v8 Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.”
Jesus doesn’t confirm or deny Zacchaeus’ words or works. This isn’t just about the tax collector but the whole crowd. It has to do with restoration, radical acceptance and what it means to be a part of the kingdom of God. All are welcome at his table, in his kingdom, in his presence.
19v9-10 Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”
19v9-10 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
19v9-10 And Jesus said unto him — “To-day salvation did come to this house, inasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Jesus is restoring Zacchaeus to the community! This is why Jesus came, to restore and reverse the curse of being outside looking in, unlovable, up a tree without a way to get down. The lost are the least of these, the despised, the looked down upon.
What’s telling is how quickly the crowd, full of the least of these, is infested with that Pharisaic yeast that Jesus warns his followers to beware and stay away from in Luke 12. It is a virus of judgment and condemnation which easily infects its host.
Who would you grumble against Jesus accepting today? The politician from another party? The womanizer? The unwed mother who refuses to be abstinent? The homosexual? The person on food stamps buying cigarettes? The least of these are all around us. Those we turn away from are the very ones Jesus is looking for.
Psalm 32 – “I will tell my sins to God. I will not hide my guilt. I will confess my faults to the Lord and He will forgive me. Let us, the children of God, offer prayers today. In times of distress and chaos we will not be overwhelmed for God is our hiding place; He saves us when we are in trouble. O’ Lord teach us the way we should go, keep Your eye on us. May we not be stubborn and insist on our own way but trust in the steadfast love of the Lord. Amen.”
Posted on November 3, 2013, in Mindfulness and tagged #God, #inspire, #journey, #kindness, #Lectionary, #life, #Luke, #mindful, #wisdom, #zen, Christ, Christianity, Jesus, Luke's Gospel, meditation, Religion and Spirituality, Son of man. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.