Proper 26c – October 30, 2016
The story of Zacchaeus is one of those that most Christians are familiar with, mostly in its cute, Sunday-school form. The story seems made for children. A short man who was a “chief” tax collector, climbs a tree in order to see Jesus. Seeing him, Jesus invites himself over to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner. Seemingly unprompted and as a sign of repentance, Zacchaeus, offers to give half his possessions to the poor and to repay four times what he has defrauded anyone. This is way more than required by law.
Tax-Collectors were considered Roman collaborators and traitors to the Jewish people. For Jesus to include Zacchaeus in any concept of Salvation would have been scandalous, but that’s what Jesus does, radically including those on the margins. However, there is a little glitch in the reading of this text. Scholars have offered two readings on whether Zacchaeus’ giving half of what he has to the poor and repaying four-fold are describing his potential future pledge or his current behavior. In other words, is the pledge due to repentance or an explanation of current behavior in defense against the grumbling crowd who can’t believe Jesus is eating with him. If read as a future pledge: “I will give half of my possessions to the poor and four-fold what I have defrauded anyone”, then the parable makes a nice compact conversion story. However, if read as a present tense: “I give half of what I own to the poor and I pay four fold what I have defrauded anyone”, then the story revolves around the radical inclusion and salvation pronounced by Jesus, and has almost nothing to do with Zaccheaus actions.
That said, Zaccheaus at least embodies a desire to see Jesus, even to the point of embarrassingly climbing a tree so that he might catch a glimpse of this rumored Prophet. Perhaps that is what is the real take away, that those who desire to see Jesus will and they will be included for that desire alone.
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Habakkuk is an unusual prophetic book because the prophet confronts God rather than confronting the people on behalf of God. Therefore, the book reads like a lament that we hear in many other places – “How long, O Lord?” The book harbors deep desire for Judgment and Salvation. The first part of the reading captures the lament of Habakkuk who desires that God act to overcome the injustice of the world. God answers Habakkuk’s plea in vv. 5-11(the section not included) and predicts God’s coming Judgment to be wrought by the Chaldeans (Babylonians). In vv. 12-17 Habakkuk registers another complaint with God in using the Chaldean’s to serve God’s purpose letting the righteous suffer along with the un-righteous and the Chaldean’s hands. The reading then picks up again with Habakkuk awaiting God’s response to his complaint, taking watch on the rampart. God responds in vv. 2-5 and, after telling Habakkuk to write down what he sees (hears) large enough that runner (messenger) may read it, God describes the proud, who are later equated with those who amass wealth and goods on the backs of others. God then compares the righteous, who live in faith, hoping for justice.
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
The opening sentences of Paul’s letters, the Salutation and Thanksgiving, read much like most Greek letters of the same time period. “Paul” — again, a letter that may not be authentically Paul—writes to the Thessalonians, a church he had established in his missionary journeys in Macedonia, who seem to be dealing with a controversial understanding of the parousia (The second coming of Christ). The experience of intense persecutions convinced them that Christ had already returned. So, Paul writes this letter in order to fend off this false understanding (cf. vv. 2:1-3). Paul first commends them on their “steadfastness” and “faith” in the midst of the persecution, but then moves on to a rebuke their wayward understanding. In the interceding verses (5-10) he describes the parousia in no uncertain terms as promising vindication for the faithful. Paul then encourages the Thessalonians, telling them that he intercedes in prayer that their works of faith (perhaps their suffering in the midst of persecution) may fulfill in them a purpose by God’s power. Overall, these verses show Paul’s continuing concern and passion for this community as it suffers for the Gospel, even to the point of holding them up as an example in this regard. But it doesn’t mean he won’t correct them when they stray.