Old Testament: Habakkuk (1:1-4; 2:1-4)
The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment comes forth perverted. I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
The Response: Psalm 119 (137-144)
137 You are righteous, O Lord, *
and upright are your judgments.
138 You have issued your decrees *
with justice and in perfect faithfulness.
139 My indignation has consumed me, *
because my enemies forget your words.
140 Your word has been tested to the uttermost, *
and your servant holds it dear.
141 I am small and of little account, *
yet I do not forget your commandments.
142 Your justice is an everlasting justice *
and your law is the truth.
143 Trouble and distress have come upon me, *
yet your commandments are my delight.
144 The righteousness of your decrees is everlasting; *
grant me understanding, that I may live.
The Epistle: 2 Thessalonians (1:1-4, 11-12)
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring. To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel: Luke (19:1-10)
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Way back on June 26, we began Luke’s story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” We have been on that journey with him ever since. Week after week for the past four months, our Sunday gospel readings have recounted Jesus’ words and actions during that fateful, determined march toward his definitive encounter with all who stood in the way of God’s greatest work of salvation.
Now finally, our journey with Jesus approaches its end. But before we reach that final destination, and Jesus’ enters Jerusalem itself, Luke presents us with a pair of characters, each of whom is enabled to see by the prophet and healer from Galilee. In many ways, the two of them are polar opposites; but ultimately they will come to share the same God-given light and life.
The first of them appears in the verses (18:35-43) immediately preceding today’s reading. Just before Jesus enters Jericho, the crowd gathers outside the city. It includes an unnamed blind man. It might well be that nobody knows his name, because nobody has bothered to ask. From their perspective, why would they? He is a beggar, a nobody, apparently having few, if any, resources of his own. As those accompanying Jesus try to silence the man, he cries out louder and louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus has him brought forward; and, in response to his entreaty, restores his sight.
The second character waits inside the city itself. Everyone knows who he is, because he does have authority and resources. His name is Zacchaeus. He’s a wealthy man, a chief tax-collector; and everyone despises him for it. And when Jesus asks to stay at his house for the night and Zacchaeus happily welcomes him, Luke tells us that “All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner’.” And the little man, who had to climb a sycamore tree to see Jesus, now comes to see him in a deeper sense: to see him as God’s prophet who brings new life to all.
Two men: one outside the city, the other inside; one unknown, the other well known; one desperately poor, the other apparently very rich; one having nothing to give away, the other coming to give away half of all that he has in order to care for the poor. Yet each of them was healed of his particular type of blindness, and each of them embraced God’s gift of new life in the teacher from Nazareth.
And what reaction did the two of them receive? Those around them grumbled about each of them.
The French philosopher, René Girard, once described the phenomenon that took place here: one in which what makes one person happy all too frequently makes another person bitter. He cited conflicts among siblings, and he saw this same predilection toward a jealous grumbling as the source of much of the violence in the world. Luke often portrays this same sort of reaction to Jesus’ works of healing: social healing as well as physical healing.
Do we sometimes react in the same way? If we do, perhaps at least one source of our problem, not only in accepting the good fortune of others, but even in accepting others, those whose points of view differ from ours, is the tendency to give our own, all too narrow answer to the question asked by Jesus’ followers shortly before the stories of these two men. In response to Jesus’ teachings, his disciples ask him (18:26), “Then who can be saved?” And part of Luke’s response is the presentation of these two stories, narratives about two very different people, both of whom are “saved,” both of whom receive God’s gift of new life in Jesus. Essentially, Luke’s and Jesus’ answer to the question, “Then who can be saved?” is “everybody.” While Jesus’ critics struggle to exclude one or the other character, Jesus embraces both of them.
The tendency to include and exclude, to think that we have the truth and that those who disagree with us do not, seems to be pervasive among us humans. We find it expressed, or at least implied, in churches, in politics, and wherever human beings are involved.
In churches, there are those who disagree with the majority on issues dealing with human sexuality, for example, and who, therefore, refuse to remain part a church, or even share Holy Communion, with those who differ from them. In government, there are those who refuse to compromise with anyone who does not adhere to their own particular, very narrow and doctrinaire perspective. And in society in general, there are far too many people who will listen only to speakers and writers and broadcasters who agree perfectly with their point of view, and who avoid anyone who might cause them to think or rethink their positions, to look at them from a different perspective. They act as though they had the pure and simple truth; but, as playwright Oscar Wilde pointed out, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
“Then who can be saved?” It’s important to remember that “being saved” in a biblical sense is not just about going to heaven when we die, as some Christians narrowly imply. It is about a sharing in all of God’s creating and redeeming work: seeing all people, and all of life and the world, as Jesus saw them, experiencing the kingdom of God at work, transforming lives and transforming society as a whole. And it is about allowing the Spirit of God to broaden our perspective so that we realize that none of us has a lock on “the truth,” but that the real truth lies in God alone and that we all have only a relatively small share in it. And that necessarily means that we need one another in order to continue our journey into the truth.
“Being saved” is about recognizing and accepting and celebrating the fact that the light and life of God is a gift both for the unnamed blind man and for Zacchaeus. It is about knowing that there is, in fact, “a wideness in God’s mercy.” It is about recognizing that “the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” and that that includes all of us, and everyone else in the world as well.