Sunday, December 1, 2019
In Luke’s gospel there are many warnings about the spiritual danger of money, riches and wealth.* In three of those instances there were positive outcomes with the son who comes home after spending his wealth until it was gone (Luke 15:11-32), the tax collector who was justified before God as he acknowledged his brokenness and his need for God’s mercy (Luke 18:9-14) and in our present story about a little man who wanted to see Jesus (Luke 19:1-10).
In each of these positive examples there is a common theme of repentance that is absent in the others. This is in contrast to, for example, the Pharisees who, Luke tells us, “who loved money” (Luke 16:14) and the rich young ruler who was saddened by Jesus’ instruction to sell everything he had to give to the poor. This would be necessary for him to be able to follow Jesus (Luke 18:18-30).
TAX COLLECTORS IN LUKE
In first century Judea tax collectors were among the lowest of the low in the Jewish social stratus, in spite of their wealth. This was because of the nature of their task to represent the Jew’s Roman oppressors and collect taxes while adding a little extra for themselves. In their neighbor’s eyes, this was the equivalent of robbery and a reminder that they lived under the thumb of a merciless, repressive, foreign, Gentile government.
Jewish hatred for their fellow citizens who served as tax collectors had dramatic implications for their place in society. Because of the nature of their income, for example, they were forbidden to give alms in the temple or to pay the temple tax (“Tax Collectors” in JewishEncyclopedia.com).
When we compare ourselves to the tax collector, however, there are ways in which we are not much different. Everyone wrestles with the blessings of God and how to use them. In the story of Zacchaeus, we find that even the lowest of the low in society have a place in the kingdom of God.
So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.Revelation 3:19-20
*For Example, see Luke 1:52-53, 6:24-25, 8:14, 12:13-21, 14:12-14, 15:11-32, 16:1-15, 19-31, 18:18-25, 21:1-3.