Monthly Archives: July 2012

BIG Stories of the Bible: Jesus and Zacchaeus

The Monday night Bible Study group explored the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus last night, and even though this is a familiar story, we learned a lot from each other. I want to share a few of our learnings – and invite you to join the conversation.

Luke is the only gospel writer to tell this story. It comes as Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, and traveling through Jericho – which is like a border town. It is a place for a group to¬† gather and re-group for the final stage of the journey. And Jericho was a place that the kings of Israel would come once a year, in ordinary clothes, and then walk back up the mountain to Jerusalem – a ritual that reminded them that God is in charge of life, and we follow in God’s ways.

The story starts out as a comedy really. Jesus is passing through town. Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a rich man, wants to see Jesus. But the crowd is large, and he is small in stature. So Zacchaeus runs around the crowd and climbs up in a fig tree in order to see Jesus as he passes by. We talked about running – what would make an important man run through a crowd? It had to be an eagerness, an excitement, a curiosity. But we also learned that in that culture, running was considered embarrassing and shameful. Adults – and particularly important adults – simply did not run. Perhaps you can see the comedy in your mind.

Let me go back and say – in Luke’s gospel, Jesus spends a good bit of time with tax collectors. He eats with them. He spends time with them. They are marginalized folk and he seeks to restore them in community. But Zacchaeus is also a rich man. And the rich are not so well treated in Luke’s gospel. Just a chapter or so before this story, a rich man asks Jesus – what must I do to inherit eternal life. And after some conversation, Jesus says – you are right. Do this, and also give away all that you have, and come follow me. But this was too much for the rich man. Then Jesus said – It is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the realm of God.

Zacchaeus does not fit into any easy category. He is marginalized as a tax collector. He is complicit in the systems of corruption. He is rich and that sets him apart. One of our participants last night suggested – Maybe Jesus chose to go to Zacchaeus house because he had the biggest house – and Jesus had a lot of people traveling with him. It is a good point.

Zacchaeus was glad to offer hospitality to Jesus. And while we don’t know what these two men talked about, we do know it was a transforming experience for Zacchaeus. He offers to pay back anyone he might have defrauded, with the designated penalties written into the law. But he says -“If I have defrauded anyone…” We talked about how sometimes we hurt others without knowing we are doing so. What do you think? Did Zacchaeus know he was defrauding or hurting others?

In the end, Jesus says – salvation has come to this house. Salvation means wholeness, being well, being healed. And Jesus calls Zacchaeus a son of Abraham – reinstalling him into the community. Salvation came to his whole household.And Jesus says – the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost. This reminds us of earlier parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. And suddenly we see that at first Zacchaues was seeking Jesus, but in the end we know that Jesus has also been seeking Zacchaeus.

There is good news when we know that whatever our mistakes, our blindness, our struggle, God continues to offer us a radical grace and a healing. We all have the qualities of being disciples – even if they are not our most visible qualities. Each of us is called to let go of whatever gets in our way of living a life of love and grace, to be transformed, and to become part of the community again. Conversion has personal, domestic, social and economic dimensions.Luke never talks about it as a condition of the soul alone. Following Jesus means living differently.

What are your thoughts on this story?

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BIG Stories of the Bible: Moses and the Burning Bush

The story of the call of Moses can be found in Exodus 3-4. It is part of a longer narrative that involves God’s hearing the cry of the oppressed in Egypt and responding in ways to deliver them. God calls Moses to return to Egypt – the place he grew up – and to be the voice of God saying: “Let my people go!” It is a rich and wonderful story. When God calls Moses, Moses negotiates for a long time with God. He starts by asking – “who am I to do this mission for you?” And then he asks – and who are you God? When people ask me who you are, what shall I tell them?

It is a great story. I hope you will read it. The bible Study group has spent 2 hours talking about it, and we have only begun to scratch the surface of all the depths of the story. But a couple things I will share with you – and invite you to comment on.

The first is that God calls Moses because Moses is the best one God knows of to fulfill the mission of liberating these Hebrews. God sees in Moses the gifts necessary for the task at hand. God knows that Moses is not perfect. That doesn’t matter. God will work with our human frailties. God will even change God’s plans to bring the humans needed on board. That’s what God does in this story. God listens to Moses. God does all in God’s power to persuade Moses. But Moses still refuses the job – at least refuses to do it alone. So God brings Aaron onto the team. God would prefer that it just be Moses – but allows Moses this possibility of the help of Aaron. God does not change the mission, just adapts the plan to help bring Moses along.

Terence Fretheim has written a commentary on Exodus, and he says we learn from this story that God is clearly the authority in the exchange with Moses. But God’s approach is non-authoritarian by nature. It is more than simply divine patience; it is an openness to consider seriously what the human partner has to say. God’s way into the future is not dictated solely by divine word and will. The human party has a voice and a perspective.

The question was raised last night – how did Aaron come into the picture? We learn in Ex.4:14 that Aaron is Moses’ brother, a Levite, and is on his way to see Moses already. We don’t know where Aaron is coming from. We have not been informed with more data on Aaron’s life. Why was Aaron coming? Was he coming from Egypt to check up on his brother? We don’t know. And was Aaron involved in any conversation with God about what his role would be? Not that the text tells us. It raises the question for us – when have we walked into a situation where our gifts and abilities were needed? Who has come into our life to bring possibilities to help something happen?

Do you identify more with Moses or with Aaron?

We invite you to think with us on these questions and on the story. Share a comment if you will. Moses seems called to do the impossible. He seems to know that this calling is a threat to his very life. And yet, if he does not accept the calling, he lives an uncalled life that becomes an autonomous existence. Moses excuses are reasonable and practical. But God knows what God is doing. Maybe that is what Moses has to come to accept – that God has the wisdom and the power to do what God is calling Moses to do.

Have you experienced a calling? Have you (did you) resist? Does God seem to ask more than we feel we can give? What do you say?

Our next Bible Study will be Monday, July 16 at 6pm in room 208 at the church. We will be exploring the story of Jesus and Zaccheaus in Luke 19:1-10. Would love to have you join us.

Rev. Joe Hoffman, First Congregational UCC, Asheville

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