Jesus Dines With The Rich & Infamous

We continue our series LOVE PRAY EAT, with this week’s message on Luke 19:1-10…

Jesus shares his last meal outside of Jerusalem before his trial and death with a wealthy chief tax collector named Zacchaeus. Jesus invites himself (and no doubt his entourage), and Zacchaeus’ response is to welcome Jesus with joy, a characteristic strikingly absent from Jesus’ meals with the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. While sharing a meal with Jesus, Zacchaeus announces he will give half of his wealth to the poor and recompense fourfold anyone he has defrauded (v. 8).

Does one need renounce all possessions and give away all wealth to be a disciple of Jesus (14:33; 18:28)? The ambiguity is solved here in the home of Zacchaeus: almsgiving is a visible sign of the reception of the good news of the kingdom of God, and an indication of the repentance that Jesus seeks; however, salvation comes to Zacchaeus even though he keeps half of his wealth. But neither can we gloss over the fact that Jesus has previously stated he is calling (warning) the rich to start with almsgiving and relinquish their wealth.

The message to the rich in the early church and to us is to become “Sons of Abraham” by being transformed like Zacchaeus from reluctant and greedy traitor, to generous provider of aid to the poor and hospitality to serve the mission of Jesus. Thus, a note of hope is given to the rich for whom it is difficult to enter the kingdom of God (18:25). This story challenges those with wealth to open their homes and their tables to the poor, just as Zacchaeus is now doing. That such practice is present in Acts would suggest this is the case (9:36; 10:4, 31; 24:17).

Finally, although Zacchaeus offers Jesus hospitality, it is not just eating and drinking with Jesus that allows participation in his kingdom. It is only the open-hearted reception of Jesus, and the accompanying repentance, that enables one to enter into his kingdom. For Jesus has already warned regarding future judgement: “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’” (13:26-27). And as is the case with Zacchaeus, eating and drinking with Jesus must include a welcome and embracing of his mission.

Whether he is with “sinners”, religious elite or rich and shonky tax collectors like Zacchaeus, Jesus never bends and changes to suit the crowd he is in. He is unified in his person and mission. What is it about his spiritual life and practices that enable his inner life and his public life to be seamless and unified? What would help us to be more integrated in what we believe and how we live for Jesus?

Nicholas Tuohy

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