Luke 19:1-10

LIVING STONES THEOLOGY:

HOW GIVING STARTS

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg


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Luke 19:1-10 NIV

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him,

"Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'"

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."

Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

Brothers and sisters in Christ:

This morning we looked at some of the key aspects of the gift of giving - this evening we want to look at a person who immediately upon his coming to Christ demonstrated the gift of giving - and as we look at him - we will notice some of the key sources of this mans gracious attitude.

To understand this passage, we must understand one of the main themes of the gospel of Luke. Luke emphasizes God's love and grace for the poor, the disadvantaged, minorities, outcasts, sinners and lepers.* In light of that - Luke contrasts a rich young ruler who had it all, with Zacchaeus. Luke 18:18

18 A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'"

21 "All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said.

22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.

Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

26 Those who heard this asked, "Who then can be saved?"

27 Jesus replied, "What is impossible with men is possible with God."

28 Peter said to him, "We have left all we had to follow you!"

29 "I tell you the truth," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life."

You will notice that there is a contrast between the story of the rich young ruler and this story. The rich young ruler asked what he must do to enter into eternal life. Jesus told him to keep the Ten commandments, and he replied that he did that. To that Jesus added "there is still one think lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me." This rich young ruler found it hard to give up his wealth. Now there are some things that are very clear.

This rich young ruler had status in society, he had wealth, he had good character - keeping the 10 commandments - he had everything and he accomplished it himself, or so he thought. In truth he didn't need God - what is the point, he has arrived already. Though he may have had religious inclinations, his religious inclinations were not enough to drive him to depend on God. For that is what he would have had to do - if he choose to sell all he possessed and give it to the poor - he would then have to start depending on the Lord for that would mean to give up his status in society, give up his wealth, his popularity, his security. And he was not about to do that because money already gave that to him. In the end, even though he was rich, he was not a giver. He was a man that fulfilled the law in every detail - but he proved that the law cannot make givers out of us. That was demonstrated in the history of Israel - they were commanded to celebrate the year of jubilee, canceling debts, but Israel never successfully completed it - the law could not turn them into givers. This rich young ruler would never be a giver, because giving arises from grace - God giving to us so that we can give to others - as we found this morning - metagiving. (See Romans 12:1-9 "Living Stones Theology: The Spiritual Gift of Giving)

Contrast this for just a few minutes with Zacchaeus. We are told that he was a chief tax collector - he probably collected taxes from the tax collectors, and then in a pyramid style - took a little more than appropriate cut for himself before he passed the money on to the Roman treasurer. And in the process, we are told that he became very wealthy. He too was rich. But at the same time, his riches brought him into disrepute. Israel rejected him. His brothers and sisters would probably not have anything to do with him. He would have been disowned by his family because he was a sinner. He too had religious inclinations, like the rich young ruler, but he did not have the status to get an audience with Jesus - so being of short stature (physically and socially), he climbed a sycamore tree - a kind of tree, according to my commentaries with a large crown that was quite easy to climb, just so that he might see Jesus. It seems Zacchaeus was demonstrating part of his history - getting to where he wanted to go, even if by alternative or sometimes unethical means. But then notice that the story turns and surprises us. The story does not tell us that Zacchaeus called out to Jesus, or that he got Jesus attention, rather it simply states that when Jesus got to that spot - Jesus was the first to speak.

"Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today."

Do you hear the shocking grace of what Jesus is saying. The nation, his family, his friends would have rejected this little man outright - for he was a sinner. They would have never gone to his house, but Jesus here tells Zacchaeus that he is coming to his home - in fact the implication of the text is that he was going to stay there, and even have meals with Zacchaeus - and in that culture - if you regarded someone as your enemy, unclean, a sinner, you would never never share a meal with him.

Jesus very first words to Zacchaeus are shocking undeserved grace to this little crook of a man that had made his way to the top by very unethical means. What follows is no shock at all. All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.' What Jesus did was culturally, a bull in a china shop. Such grace is unfair. God shouldn't be so nice to such a crooked man. But you know what - that's the way God is.

Zacchaeus though came down - and recognizing the gift of acceptance that Jesus had given him welcomed him publically - by implication into his own home. Obviously, Zacchaeus had not had guests for a long time - this was for him a thunderstorm after years of drought, a friend when you are surrounded by enemies. Now though - the contrast between the rich young ruler and this little crook, the rich tax collector called Zacchaeus - really comes out. Listen to Zacchaeus' response...

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."

Part of his response was clear repentance and doing what was right in the form of restitution. Deuteronomy required that if a their stole another man's sheep - the thief upon being caught, would have to repay the man for the stolen sheep 4 times over. Zacchaeus was clearly turning from his wicked ways.

But what is truly wonderful about this passage is Zacchaeus' response to the gift of grace that Jesus had given to him - Zacchaeus, without being told to choose to give half of his possessions to the poor. This was not required by the law. This was not required by Jesus. This gracious hilarious unfolded giving was Zacchaeus' response to the gracious and hilarious gift of acceptance that he had received from Jesus. In this passage, we can almost here Jesus laughing as he invites himself over - even though the people would never understand it. And we can certainly hear God laughing when this little man, now becoming straight starts giving freely to the poor - all that gain that Zacchaeus once hoarded now has becoming something of little significance - because Jesus loves him, treasures him, values him - money now is to be shared.

A rich young ruler got an audience with Jesus - but he would not give his money because he had no want for the grace of God - he was sufficient unto himself.

A rich short chief tax collector could not get an audience with Jesus - but when Jesus dumped incredible grace into his lap - there was only one response - to give graciously to others.

That is where giving starts - it arises from the hilariously unfair grace of God - we start giving when we graciously have been given too first. God loves a cheerful giver - he takes incredible pleasure in such unfair givers - because through them - the world sees pictures of God's grace.

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* (Chris Haslam 1998 - Lectionary commentary, www.montreal.anglican.org/comment/thisweek.htm)

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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