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Last Stop On the Road

Luke 19:1 -- 27

Lesson audio

Children’s Choir director. Fear enough for any man; the attempt to squeeze music out of a collection of three year olds, knowing full well that not one can carry a tune – and all their parents are listening.

A favorite of such directors is the song, “Zaccheus was a wee little man.” The song comes with a series of motions for the little darlings, most of whom will be looking at the kid next to them and copying his movements. The whole thing usually produces the laughter that comes when cute kids try.

There is, however, no humor in the man they are singing about. Zaccheus was not only a “wee little man” – he was a social outcast.

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, "Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house." And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."

(Luk 19:1-10 NASB)

Benedict Arnold

To understand the passage, we must begin with the generally low esteem given to tax collectors of any time. Taxpayers of any time are prone to revolt (remember Proposition 13?), so means must be devised to prevent that. The Romans had an elegant system: they recruited some Jews to tax all the rest of them. They also made it very lucrative to do so – especially when the tax law is complex (do you do your own?) and cheating the taxpayer an easy thing to do. The system was designed to produce traitors and toads, and it was quite good at it. The closest I have seen to it in modern life is the system of “trusty” and racial enmity found in our prisons.

Do outcasts have dignity?

If an outcast develops dignity, he soon becomes a laughingstock. We raise our children to be cool, with it and (hopefully) on their way to being adults. Adulthood enforces the same message: you’re either in the right crowd – or an outcast. What’s it like to be an outcast?

  • First, such people are considered worthless. Suppose you are planning an activity, say, a church picnic. The questions of menu and location come quickly; it is dangerous to pick these things by yourself. Whose opinion do you value? It’s a social occasion; you listen to social people. The outcast is lucky to hear about the event.
  • Second, the outcast is easy to hate. Hatred plays a major role in things political (see how the press treats George Bush). If someone is worthless, that same someone is easy to despise. (The politically correct have mastered this weapon.)
  • For the most part, such people are lone and lonely. It makes them miserable – which is what most of us think they should be.

Do you think this an unreasonable thought? Let me test your understanding with a few thoughts:

  • Have you seen what the teenage girls are wearing to church these days? The “fashion” of the moment is to look like a prostitute. (A seventh grade girl wearing fishnet hose can be a fright). Dressing modestly makes you an outcast.
  • But surely that wouldn’t affect the church, would it? Look on our website; one of the great things listed about our New Song worship is that “casual attire is emphasized.” Emphasized?

Perhaps we might take a clue from the younger generation and ask, What Would Jesus Do? We might start here with the grace Jesus shows to an outcast.

On Repentance

Zaccheus, to his credit, understands money – and repentance. Money has been running his life; it’s what he’s good at. So when he repents, he does so in gold:

  • Repentance means restoring. Zaccheus exceeds the requirements of the Law of Moses for fraud.
  • Repentance means doing the good you can. Money he had in abundance; as the poor of Jericho will now see.
  • Repentance means taking on a new Lord. Zaccheus exchanged a poor master (money) for The Master.

Examine the reaction of Jesus. There is no formula; no baptism, no words to be repeated. Why?? Because Jesus knows the truth in his heart; and when man repents sincerely, God will forgive. Right now. Today, salvation has come to this house.

Repentance certainly has its rewards, to be sure. The poor of Jericho no doubt had occasion to bless the name of Zaccheus. Those he defrauded might be taken aback by the change – but they’ll take the money. There’s even a blessing to us today, for Christ must speak of the coming kingdom of God – and what better example to use in front of Zaccheus than one that involves money:

"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. So He said, "A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. "And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, 'Do business with this until I come back.' "But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We do not want this man to reign over us.' "When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. "The first appeared, saying, 'Master, your mina has made ten minas more.' "And he said to him, 'Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.' "The second came, saying, 'Your mina, master, has made five minas.' "And he said to him also, 'And you are to be over five cities.' "Another came, saying, 'Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.' "He *said to him, 'By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? 'Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?' "Then he said to the bystanders, 'Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.' "And they said to him, 'Master, he has ten minas already.' "I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. "But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence."

(Luk 19:10-27 NASB)

We must understand this parable in the light of the moment Christ uses it. Many of those around Jesus think that the Son of David is ready to restore David’s throne. It is a political and military solution, but that’s what they expected from the Prince of Peace. Others around him saw things as much more difficult. They correctly estimated the reaction of the religious authorities. Zaccheus repented; the religious authorities saw no reason for their own repentance. But the repentance of Zaccheus could be seen as the opening move of a political scheme to unite the twelve tribes again and begin the revolution.

To point his followers to the truth, Jesus tells them a parable – one which would be very familiar to his hearers. Here’s why:

The “man” in the parable is doing what Herod the Great did. When the Romans conquered a territory, it was their custom to install puppet royalty. The royalty got a cut of the take; Rome needed far fewer troops to enforce their wishes. Herod went to Rome to be crowned king. This didn’t sit well with the Jews – especially since Herod was not even native Jewish. Upon his return, he set in motion a series of murders and deaths which consolidated his grip on the throne. He had no problem with this. Of course, this is the man who ordered the slaughter of the infants at the time of Jesus’ birth. (The Herod reigning at this time was the grandson of that Herod.)

We’re not too familiar with the royalty of that day, but the parable has real meaning for us:

  • For the “good and faithful,” the return of Christ will be a time of reward – which will be all out of proportion to our efforts. Faithful in little, faithful in much.
  • For those who did not work, there will be no reward. Paul describes such people as being like those who escaped a house fire – and lost everything but the clothes on their backs.
  • But for those who are Christ’s enemies, there will be nothing but death, destruction and hell.

It is not popular to preach and teach this. Its sole virtue is that it’s true. May it give the reader reason to reflect upon his or her own actions.

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