To seek out and save the lost
Gospel for Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016
By Glen Argan
Jesus’ visit to the house of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho, is perhaps the most challenging story in the New Testament (Luke 19.1-10).
“Toll collector” is the more accurate term for Zacchaeus’ occupation. No doubt backed up by a gang of thugs, Zacchaeus would extort a toll from those heading from Samaria to Jerusalem via Jericho. The Romans would take their cut and Zacchaeus and his gang theirs. His was an unsavoury business.
That Jesus would invite himself to Zacchaeus’ house was astounding – not just in terms of his consorting with an impure sinner and Roman collaborator, but likely also because his personal safety was at risk.
No mention is made of a meal at Zacchaeus’ house, but almost certainly there was one, perhaps with his thugs present as well. Some will say the meal was not sacramental, to avoid obvious implications for our sacramental practice if it had been.
However, wasn’t every meal at which Jesus was present a sacrament? Christ was fully present at those meals, dispensing the Holy Spirit to those present, none of whom had been sacramentally baptized.
The challenge here lies in how we do ministry. Psychology professor Mark Yarhouse, in his book Understanding Gender Dysphoria, says that the traditional evangelical church focuses on ensuring correct behaviour from those it is evangelizing before it asks them to receive Jesus. Only after their moral uprightness is ensured and they have accepted Jesus are newcomers admitted to the fold.
However, this is not how Jesus deals with Zacchaeus. For Jesus, the toll collector is first admitted to the community before he repents of his serious misdeeds. The experience of Jesus’ love comes first, repentance second.
“The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost,” Jesus said of Zacchaeus. Not to exclude him from the meal because of his sins, which were many. Not to use his case as a salutary example for other sinners. But to seek him out and to save him. Is it too much to ask that we follow Jesus’ example?
[Other readings: Wisdom 11.22—12.2; Psalm 145; 2 Thessalonians 1.11—2.2]