Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4,11-12
Notes on the Gospel Reading
Comments on Luke 19: 1-10
1. Zacchaeus was a rich man
Luke is the only gospel that tells the story of Zacchaeus, and his story fits into one of Luke’s regular themes – the problem of riches and what to do about them. This story contrasts with the story of the rich young ruler. Both were wealthy and powerful. We don’t know where the rich young ruler got his wealth from, but we do know that Zacchaeus was colluding with the oppressive state and for that reason he was not liked. We often like to think of him climbing the tree because he was short, but the picture we should have in our minds is of the people in the crowd refusing to let him come through because he was seen as a collaborator. His job was to collect money from fellow Judeans and pay a portion to Rome. So he could only have grown rich by collecting more funds than the Empire demanded. The fact that his neighbours consider him a sinner suggests that his collection of excess funds for his own use was causing suffering in the community
The rich young ruler on the other hand kept all the commandments and was considered righteous, but could not do the ‘one thing remaining” to sell his possessions and give them to the poor. Zacchaeus, the sinner recognises the hurt he has caused , receives Jesus’ teaching with joy and declares that he will share and give back more than he has taken. Rather than finding joy in using his wealth to procure status and friends, he is now using his possessions in the service of the poor and justice. And so he feels the joy , of bringing ‘good news to the poor!’
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Zacchaeus not only gives half of his possessions away, he is prepared to do reparations. He recognises that his wealth and consumption have come at the suffering of others.
In our modern world we know that the misery caused by climate change has it roots in greed and over consumption. Climate change has caused extreme storms, drought and sea level rise. Those impacted have lost homes, loved ones and livelihoods. Nations have suffered damage to hospitals, roads, schools, and entire economies. After rebuilding they are trapped in the vicious cycle of debt. They are calling on the carbon emitting nations to recognise these impacts of “loss and damage” and to pay reparations.
Bishop Olivia Graham (Diocese of Reading ) wrote this, “ThE story of Zacchaeus the chief tax collector encapsulates the issue. When Zacchaeus became a follower of Jesus, he repented, but he didn’t just say sorry to all those he had harmed during his years of corruption. His repenting involved giving half his money to the poor and repaying four-fold all those whom he had cheated. Like Zacchaeus, nations in the global North have got rich at the expense of some of the world’s poorest people; so what does repenting mean for us? Simply saying sorry to those suffering from loss and damage is not going to cut it. “Sorry” is just a word. We can, and should, make amends. Repentance is a core component of the Christian faith. It is about showing that we really are sorry by what we then do. A Church of England prayer for absolution reads: “The almighty and merciful Lord, grant us pardon and forgiveness of all our sins, time for amendment of life, and the grace and strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
It is a distressing thing to know that we in the UK are causing suffering to our brothers and sisters around the world. This is not in line with the teaching of Jesus to love our neighbour. Of course, we can ask for forgiveness, but the time for amendment of life is here. We need both to stop causing suffering to others and to pay for what we have broken — to pay for the loss and damage that we have caused.” In English when we have sinned against others we say “I am sorry”, this is an individual request for forgiveness. In many African languages we say “I ask for peace” (Ndicela uxolo). This is a communal response, recognising the damage I have caused and that I must make reparations for the damage.
- What damage have you done to your neighbour?
- Can you move from saying sorry to making peace?
- It is time, not just to stop causing damage to our neighbour, but to mend what is broken.
This hymn was originally written to support Bread for the World’s 2010 Offering of Letters that urges Congress to adopt changes to U.S. tax policy that will benefit low-income families.
Zacchaeus was a Tax Man
Tune: (“O Jesus, I Have Promised”),
Zacchaeus was a tax man who one day climbed a tree,
For he was short in stature and said he could not see.
And yet he had a problem that mattered even more:
He didn’t see the suffering his greed had caused the poor
O Lord, you saw Zacchaeus — so wealthy, yet alone.
You said, “Come down — and hurry! I’m coming to your home.”
For you broke bread with sinners and saw within each one
A person loved and treasured — God’s daughter or God’s son.
It wasn’t just the treetop that helped Zacchaeus see;
Your love and welcome showed him how different life could be.
He said that he’d start over and work to make things fair;
He’d speak the truth, bring justice, and find new ways to share.
O Christ, you bid us welcome and help us all to see!
May we respond by building a just society.
Then children won’t be hungry and all will share your bread.
Then those who now must struggle will live in joy instead.
Text: Copyright © 2010 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Revd Dr Rachel Mash
Rev Dr Rachel Mash is the environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. (South Africa, Swaziland- Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique). She works with the Green Anglicans youth Movement which is taking off in Africa. She is also the secretary to the Anglican Communion Environmental Network and sits on the steering group of the Season of Creation group. www.greenanglicans.org | www.seasonofcreation.org | https://acen.anglicancommunion.org/