Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Jericho Luncheon

Jesus once told the parable of the treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44). A man who knew there was treasure hidden in a field sold all that he has and bought that field. He paid a price that is much higher than the actual price of the field. For the owner of the field and others this man appeared to be a fool. Though the owner of the field was selling the field, this man was in fact buying the treasure. The owner could see only the field but the buyer sees a treasure in it.

This parable applies to all who have sacrificed all that they have for the sake of the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to establish. The best illustration of this parable is what happened in Jericho during the visit of Jesus when he met Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).

The Bible says Zacchaeus was a chief-tax collector. A chief tax-collector is someone who was in charge of many tax-collectors or had the right to collect tax from one or more tax-districts which he might have delegated to others. What this means is that he was doubly hated. He was hated by the tax-collectors who worked for him for demanding too much and also by the ordinary people who were struggling under the burden of Roman taxation who hated all tax-collectors!

He was the symbol of exploitation, collaborator with the Romans who economically and politically oppressed the people whom they ruled. Nobody liked Zacchaeus and his class. However, tax-collectors had a life of their own, they partied together and there was plenty of money to spend on lavish parties.

Zacchaeus was very curious but was short in stature. His curiosity was so much that he resorted to climb a tree to get a good view of Jesus. Certainly he might have heard a lot about Jesus, otherwise he would not have longed to see him. It seems that he also had some knowledge of what Jesus was preaching. Otherwise, he would not have told Jesus what he is going to do with his ill-gotten wealth (Luke 19:8).

Jesus carried with him a large crowd wherever he went. Besides the disciples and others who followed him wherever he went, there was also people from the places that he was visiting. In this large crowd that Jesus drew around himself critics were not rare. The critics who surrounded him would question his words and actions. At times they tried to harm him also.

Now, for these critics, meeting Zacchaeus was probably okay. But Jesus inviting himself to the house of Lazarus for a meal raised many the eyebrows. Their criticism was valid! A meal is more than having food. We need to be careful not only what we eat but with whom we are eating. Inviting someone for a meal, or having a meal with someone means that we share their values. We are in the same party! Seldom does enemies get together for a party unless to celebrate the end of their hostilities. If we don’t like a person we don’t like his parties also.

Having a meal with Zacchaeus means Jesus is his kind: A collaborator with the tax-collectors who support the Roman occupation of Judea to exploit his own people. A meal with Zacchaeus, that too with the knowledge of the public (Jesus invited himself to Zachaeus place in the hearing of the crowd) simply means Jesus endorses what Zacchaeus does. Jesus' is risking his reputation and making a public statement about where he stands: that he is with the oppressors and not with the oppressed. Having a meal with Zacchaeus, for the critics means that Jesus is with the imperial government and its collaborators.

Jesus and Zacchaeus have something to sort out. Do they belong to two parties or the same. If same who is on whose side? The solution was simple. One of them has to join the other. Who should do that? Should Jesus say that he belongs to the class of Zacchaeus or should Zacchaeus declare that he belongs to Jesus?

Zacchaeus knew he cannot have a meal with Jesus unless he joined Jesus party! So he "stood" (Luke 19:8). This word is powerful. Though this word means standing literally, it is used also in the sense of standing up to, resisting, etc. In Ephesians 6:11, the same Greek word is used to ‘standing against the schemes of the enemy.’ Here Zacchaeus thwarted the criticism of the crowd, and stripped them of their ammunition before they can fire the first bullet by changing sides. He is no more a tax-collector who exacts money but a new person. He will give away four-fold of what he has unjustly collected and give half of his wealth to the poor! His decision shut the mouth of the critics: Jesus is doing nothing wrong in having a meal with him, because they share the same values.

So, that meal was not Jesus endorsing Zacchaeus but Zacchaeus endorsing Jesus!

The cost was high! Much higher than the cost of meal they shared. The cost was so high that Zacchaeus probably may not be able to host another luncheon like that again. This decision might make him bankrupt, but for Zacchaeus what was important was to share the same values as that of Jesus, the Kingdom values, by bidding farewell to oppression and exploitation. That is worth more than what he was parting with--his ill-gotten wealth. He was parting with all that he had because he was simply trading it for a much precious treasure: the Kingdom of God. He bought a field selling all that he had, because he eyed a treasure in it.

Turn dire circumstances for the glory of God

The way we face the dire circumstances in our life could lead to the wider glory of God. The story of Daniel illustrates that point well. ...