Lent: Day Thirty-Six

By | Formation, lent2016

Luke 23:1-31
Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.” When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.” Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Simon the Cyrene didn’t wake up that day planning on being a hero. When he saw Jesus, bloody and beaten, carrying his cross, his first thought probably wasn’t to help out. He wasn’t auditioning for sainthood.

He was ordered to help: “They made him carry it [the cross] behind Jesus.”

Sometimes ministry is just showing up. Sometimes God puts us where we’re needed, and gives us something to do without asking our opinion on the matter. Sometimes we’re thrust into a situation, and we end up helping someone bear their burden, and carry their cross.

Sometimes we stumble upon a broken down person in need, and the person ends up being Jesus.

Sometimes we don’t need to audition for sainthood. Sometimes it finds us.

Lent: Day Thirty-Five

By | Formation, lent2016

Luke 22: 54-71
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” They kept heaping many other insults on him. When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” All of them asked, “Are you, then, the Son of God?” He said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!”

How many times have I denied Jesus? More than I can number.

I have denied him by my actions. I have denied him with my words. I have denied him by failing to listen to my conscience, and thereby doing the very thing I knew I shouldn’t have—or not doing the thing that I should have done.

And so, when I read the story of Peter, I take it personally.

I am Peter.

And if I were Peter on the night when Jesus was arrested, I am pretty certain that I would have done the same thing that he did. I think I too would have been scared for my life, and I think I may very well have denied knowing him to save myself.

And, I know that I would have walked away from that moment feeling horrible about myself. I would have closed my eyes and I would have seen nothing but Jesus’ eyes looking back at me.

I also would have walked away from that moment thinking that there was nothing I could have done to fix it. Nothing to take my shame and guilt away. I would have thought that there was no way that Jesus, my friend and teacher, would ever have forgiven me.

But, that is where I would be most wrong.

Lent: Day Thirty-Four

By | Formation, lent2016

Luke 22:24-53
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.” He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.”

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”

It was an inside job. It was Judas. After all he had seen, all he had heard, and all that he had been a part of throughout Jesus’ ministry, Judas betrays him into the hands of the religious authorities to be arrested.

He had been fed by Jesus in the feeding of the multitudes, he had been saved that stormy night on the boat when Jesus calmed the waves, and he had been sent out with the disciples to go and minister to others. He hadn’t just been a witness to everything, he had been personally effected by everything.

And yet, he still betrays him.

It’s part of the vulnerability of Jesus. Here he is, the Son of God, who comes to offer himself and his love to the whole world, and yet people can still say, “no.” People can still ignore him. People can still do everything in their power to thwart him.

But, people can also choose to say, “yes.” People can still join in. People can take this gift that Jesus gives to us, and not only accept it, but pass it on to others.

Lent: Day Thirty-Three

By | Formation, lent2016

Luke 22: 1-23
Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.” They asked him, “Where do you want us to make preparations for it?” “Listen,” he said to them, “when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this.

The Passover was a celebration of liberation. Of freedom. Of God inserting Himself into human history, and freeing Israel from oppression in Egypt. The meal was a re-membering of that sacred event, so that the people would never forget what God had done, and every generation who would sit down at table for that meal would hear the story of God’s deliverance and redemption of His people.

We remember the event of the Last Supper – Jesus’ Passover meal with his disciples – on Maundy Thursday. But, it’s at the Easter Vigil when our liturgy speaks of Christ’s Resurrection as a New Passover:

This is the night, when you brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land.

This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life.

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.

God is always in the business of bringing His people out of bondage – whether it’s the bondage of Pharaoh, or the bondage of sin and death. And, Jesus’ Passover from life to death is what restores us to freedom and grace.

Lent: Day Thirty-Two

By | Formation, lent2016

Luke 21:1-38
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down.

Remember, that all of this from today’s selection from Luke is happening during Jesus’ last week. He’s already entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and Friday is getting closer and closer. In the above selection he’s talking about the eventual destruction of Jerusalem, which would occur in the year 70AD, and which Luke’s audience knew all too well – for they had lived through it.

His message is to not let your heart get “weighed down” with the “worries of this life.” These are Jesus’ words to his followers on the last week of his life. They are his words to Luke’s congregation, who were living in the aftermath of a horrific set of historical events.

And, they are Jesus’ words to us.

These words feel so contemporary, don’t they? Don’t we have plenty to weigh down our hearts? Don’t we have ample things to be concerned about, worried about, and angry about?

But, as always, Jesus tells us to cast off fear and anxiety.

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down. Today, live those words like they matter, and let your heart be unmoored so that it might soar.

Lent: Day Thirty-One

By | Formation, lent2016

Luke 20:27-47
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him another question. Then he said to them, “How can they say that the Messiah is David’s son? For David himself says in the book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ David thus calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Judaism, at the time of Jesus, was divided into different constituent groups who took different postions on different issues. (This is of course, just like Judaism or Christian today.) Two of the main Jewish groups that we see in the New Testament are the Pharisees and the Saducees. There were many differences between the two, but one of the biggest was their belief in the general resurrection.

The Pharisees believed that there would be a day when the righteous dead would rise to live again. Before this resurrection, they believed that everyone who had died were “asleep,” and whether you were righteous or not was the dependant factor for resurrection. They got this belief from various places in the Hebrew Bible which speak of “The Day of the Lord.”

The Sadducees, however, did not believe in a general resurrection. They actually believed that there was no such thing as an afterlife, or anything that resembled a reward or punishment after death. They focused their attention on the first five books of the Bible, who they believed were written by Moses, and didn’t give much regard to the the later writings which had those references to a “Day of the Lord.”

In today’s reading we see the Sadducees picking on Jesus for his belief in a resurrection – and we see Jesus picking on them right back by quoting Moses as a reference point for his position on resurrection! From this, we might think that Jesus, and the early Christian movement, was aligned with the Pharisees on this point. But, the concept of resurrection gets greatly expanded by Jesus’ teachings on resurrection (mostly in the Gospel of John), by Paul’s teachings on what constitutes righteousness (found most explicitly in Romans), and by what happens on Easter morning when the tomb is empty.

Lent: Day Twenty-Nine

By | Formation, lent2016

Luke 19:29-48
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.

Most people don’t know this, but on the first Palm Sunday there were actually two processions into the city of Jerusalem. One of them came into the city from the west, and was designed to show the splendor and might of the one who was known as the “son of god,” “lord,” and “savior,” who had come to bring “peace on earth.” The other procession came into the city from the west… And featured Jesus riding on a donkey.

Didn’t see that coming, did you?

It was the week of Passover, and on the week of every major Jewish festival, the Roman Governor (Pontius Pilate) would ride into the city with Roman troops dressed in their resplendent uniforms to send a message to the Jews gathering to celebrate: don’t try anything. I mean, Passover is a celebration about a Israelites winning their freedom from oppression… So, the Roman Empire had something to worry about.

And, Pilate’s procession was also meant to emphasize the theology of the Roman Empire, ruled by an emperor who they claimed was a god in his own right. He was said to be a son of Apollo, born of a virgin, and was given the divine titles of “savior” and “lord” who had come to finally bring peace on earth.

Jesus’ procession with simple palm branches and shouts of “hosanna” (which means “God saves”… take that Caesar!) was a counterprocession – an act of protest – against the Roman Governor and his Emperor. And, it was a demonstration of what the Kingdom of God, over and against the kingdoms of this world, is really all about: our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

Lent: Day Thirty

By | Formation, lent2016

Luke 20:1-26
One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and telling the good news, the chief priests and the scribes came with the elders and said to him, “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?” He answered them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” They discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. Then Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. And he sent still a third; this one also they wounded and threw out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Heaven forbid!” But he looked at them and said, “What then does this text mean: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.

So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.” He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.

There’s so much dishonesty in this passage. Jesus asks the religious authorities what they thought of John’s baptism, whether it was of God or not. They made a quick calculation in their heads, that if they said “of God,” then they would indite themselves because they didn’t believe him, but if they say it was just from John, the people overhearing them would be upset.

It’s all calculation. But, they don’t figure in what they actually believe. They don’t come out and just speak the truth.

Later in the passage they are trying to trick Jesus by asking him about paying taxes to Caesar, the Roman Emperor. Before they even get to the question, they begin with buttering him up: “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth.”

It’s all baloney. And, they knew it! Because right after this exchange, when they knew that they weren’t going to succeed in trapping him into making a gaffe, “they became silent.”

It’s ok to be wrong. It’s ok to not have the right answer. It’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” It’s ok to be wrong, and then have a change of heart later.

But, we need to be honest.

As Jesus says in another place, “The truth shall set you free.”

Lent: Day Twenty-Eight

By | Formation, lent2016

Luke 19:1-28
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 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.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 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.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’ When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’ Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

Way back when I was a student in Sunday School, I remember singing with gusto about Zacchaeus the “wee little man.” That song was one of my favorites!

But, while it’s a cute number, it unfortunately blinds us to just how bad of a man Zacchaeus was. He was a tax collector, which meant that he colluded with the Roman government who were trying to subvert Israel, its culture, and its religion. Tax collectors made money by charging far more in taxes than the government even asked for. The fact that Zacchaeus became a “chief tax collector” meant that he was very, very good at working for this occupying force, and exacting money from the people. He was a willing accomplice in the brutal work of a brutal empire.

In Jesus’ day there were people that the Israelites didn’t like, but the people who occupied the absolute bottom rung of the ladder were the tax collectors. Usually the Pharisees were the ones who grumbled at Jesus’ choice of dinner companions, but in this story it’s the people who scoff. Why would Jesus go to this man’s house?!

But, when Zacchaeus stood before Jesus he felt compelled to pay back anyone he defrauded four times – which is the Old Testament punishment for stealing. With Jesus standing in his living room, Zacchaeus makes a radical life commitment to turn away from his ways, and instead try to live according to God’s way.

It’s quite a difference from the Rich Young Man we saw last week, who walked away from Jesus when he saw that the cost of following him was too high.

In this, Zacchaeus becomes the poster-child of the vast reaches of redemption: anyone and everyone is welcome to God’s Kingdom, if they just choose it for themselves.

Maybe he wasn’t such a “wee little man,” after all.

Lent: Day Twenty-Seven

By | Formation, lent2016

Luke 18:18-43
A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

In Eastern Christianity (and by this I mean Russian Orthodoxy, Greek Orthodoxy, etc.) one of the most celebrated prayers is called “The Jesus Prayer.” The prayer, in it’s entirety is simply: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

In the classic book, “The Way of the Pilgrim,” a man travels the Russian countryside to find an answer to what St. Paul meant when he said to “pray unceasingly.” (I Thessalonians 5:17) How do you pray unceasingly? The answer he found, and that millions of Orthodox Christians have found, is this simple prayer. They pray it hundreds, if not thousands of times a day, rhythmically – and sometimes with the help of an orthodox rosary of beads – until the prayer becomes as integral a part of daily life as breathing.

The second part of this much celebrated prayer comes from the supplication of the blind beggar in Luke 18. He asks not for healing, or for riches, or even for the joys of heaven. He simply asks for mercy. And with this prayer his sight is restored.

Take some time today and sit with this prayer. This prayer that has been prayed by countless Christians before us, and which countless Christians across the world are praying right now. Use this prayer, and with the posture of the blind beggar, ask Christ for mercy, that you may see what it is that God wants you to see.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.