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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources   Ordinary 31

Year C, Colour = Green


Church of the Good Shepherd, Jericho, Palestine. "Zacchaeus receives Jesus".

Introduction

Zacchaeus might have thought he was going looking for Jesus, but the end of the story makes it quite clear that Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus, the one who was lost. For his part, Zacchaeus wasn't just part of a large crowd, one of the idle curious. Crowds gather around superstars, both then and now. Paparazzi hound the rich and famous. But Luke says Zacchaeus had a different reason for being there that day he, "was seeking to see who Jesus was...." He is a model for seekers who don't get immediate satisfaction on their search, but who persist nevertheless. He is looking to see Jesus, and it turns out that Jesus was out looking for "what was lost" also.


Opening Verse of Scripture Psalm 119:1

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Merciful Lord, you have taught us through your Son that love is the fulfilling of the law. Grant that we may love you with our whole heart and our neighbours as ourselves; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

First Bible Reading Habakkuk 1 :1-4

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received. How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.

Habakkuk 2:1-4

I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. Then the LORD replied: "Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. ‘See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright-- but the righteous will live by his faith.

Second Reading 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this 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.

Gospel Reading Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 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.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Post Communion Prayer

We praise and thank you, O Christ, for this sacred feast: for here we receive you, here the memory of your passion is renewed, here our minds are filled with grace, and here a pledge of future glory is given, when we shall feast at that table where you reign with all your saints for ever.

Commentary

The Gospels are full of stories about unsavoury characters who have met with Jesus in some way and instantly changed. Zaccheus was one such character. He was a collaborator, a Jew working for the invading force - the Romans - collecting taxes from rebellious and resentful Jews and adding his own cut too. Tax collectors mostly sat on the trade routes at the entrance to the city, in this case Jericho, the spot where the pickings were richest. Zaccheus was not just a tax collector, he was a ‘chief tax collector’ a man at the top of his profession. He had become very rich on the backs of other people and so he was a bad lot. He was rich from ill-gotten money, despised by the Jewish community for his tax collecting on behalf of the Romans and probably not even fully accepted by his Roman bosses.

Zacchaeus might have thought he was going looking for Jesus, but the end of the story makes it quite clear that Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus, the one who was lost. For his part, Zacchaeus wasn't just part of a large crowd, one of the idle curious. Crowds gather around superstars, both then and now. Paparazzi hound the rich and famous. But Luke says Zacchaeus had a different reason for being there that day he, "was seeking to see who Jesus was...." He is a model for seekers who don't get immediate satisfaction on their search, but who persist nevertheless. He is looking to see Jesus, and it turns out that Jesus was out looking for "what was lost" also.

Religious people would have presumed that Zacchaeus was not very high on God's list of important people, hardly a priority for God. Zacchaeus wasn't loveable for anything he did. God loved him because of who God is, not because of any merit on Zacchaeus' part. So, God sent Jesus out to seek and find him. Jesus has a ministry to outcasts, as it was for Zacchaeus, so it is for us. Whether we feel loveable and wonder if we have done enough for God, is not the issue in this story. What Zacchaeus found out was, though he did nothing to deserve it, Jesus had come looking for him and wanted to sit at table with him.

It may have been hard for Zacchaeus to let go of what he had gotten through his tax collecting. The job, as despicable as it was to his community, had gotten him his wealth. He couldn't have done it on his own, he couldn't have "saved" himself. It's hard to let go of an accustomed way of life, even when we are miserable with it. That is where Jesus comes in and makes the changes happen which humanly speaking seem impossible. Zaccheus was a changed man who immediately gave half of his wealth away. What a contrast with that other rich man who approached Jesus, the one who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus told him to give up his wealth, he went away sorrowfully (Matt. 19:16-30). Why did an encounter with Jesus produce such different reactions from these two very rich men? Perhaps it was something to do with self-knowledge. Zaccheus knew he was a bad lot. He knew he was scorned and despised by his fellow countrymen. He knew no self-respecting Jew would ever step near his house, let alone eat with him. And he knew why. He knew he was a cheat and a thief and a traitor to his own people. And maybe deep down inside he was ashamed. Although he could never admit that until he met Jesus.

But the rich young man had no such self-knowledge. He had no reason to feel ashamed. He thought he was OK. He was rather proud of himself, because he'd done everything he ought to do. He'd kept the law all his life, and he knew he was a good person. He'd done his best. But he was totally unaware of his own greed and desire for money, until Jesus pointed it out to him. And he was so stunned by this revelation that he was unable, at that moment at any rate, to respond to Jesus. All he could do was walk away. Jesus had harsh words for only one group of people, those who thought they were so much better than they really were. He called them hypocrites. His arguments with the Pharisees were always over the same issue. The issue of their hypocrisy. They thought they were good, and to some extent they undoubtedly were good. But they failed to realise there was badness within themselves as well as goodness.

So today the story is one of hope for us all, simply recognise our need and as we seek Jesus we will find him and his forgiveness. Charles Royden

Meditation

Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, the film projector, and a storage battery. He improved the telephone, the telegraph and the gramophone (record player). Edison had only 3 months of formal schooling. Later in life he said: “I never used to be able to get along. I used to feel that the teachers did not sympathise with me, and that my father thought I was stupid.” He learned from his mother, and had an inquisitive mind which led him to explore and invent. When someone remarked how easy it must be for him to invent, he said: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration!”.

God our Father, may your Spirit be at work in my life so that I may transform into something positive whatever negative experiences I will face in life. If I have been done down or treated unfairly, lead me to be concerned about fairness and justice to others. If I have felt misunderstood, inspire me to listen to others and show genuine interest. If I have been left out of things, remind me to welcome and include others. If I have felt that I have experienced little support, show me how best to encourage others. If I have not felt really appreciated, lead me to be generous in valuing and thanking others. What I pray for today, Father, I also commit myself to work at.  Amen.

Hymns

  1. Be still
  2. Lord the light of your love
  3. Make me a channel
  4. The church of Christ in every age
  5. The kingdom of God
  6. Lord thy church on earth is seeking
  7. Stand up, stand up for Jesus
  8. How lovely on the mountains
  9. God is our strength and refuge
  10. Fight the good fight
  11. Christ is surely coming

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

representation of prayer as seed growing

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian.
If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

 

Glory to you, O Champion of all Loves, who for our sake endured the cross, encountered the enemy and tasted death. Glory be to you, O King of all Kings, who for our salvation wrestled with principalities and powers, subdued the forces of hell and won the greatest of all victories. To you be all praise, all glory and all love; now and for ever. Amen. Thomas Ken, 1637-1711

Lord, I bring the poverty of my soul to be transformed by your beauty; the wildness of my passions to be tamed by your love; the stubbornness of my will to be conformed by your commandments and the yearnings of my heart to be renewed by your grace; both now and for ever. Amen. Catherine of Genoa, 1447-1510

Eternal God, you have been our resting-place through the ages. Generations come and pass away, but you abide forever. We praise you for your presence among us. You bring us comfort amid our trials - clarity where confusion persists - peace in the midst of conflict - and hope of eternal life. Hear us now as we pray for your Church and the needs of the world, for you are the God of our lives. We pray for the Church of Jesus Christ; that, begun, maintained and promoted by the Holy Spirit, it may be true, engaging, glad, and active, doing your will. Let your church be always faithful, O God, and ready to promote the cause of compassionate love and peace

We pray that as Christian disciples we may be a faithful witness in word and deed to the Good News of Christ's Love. We pray for all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the word. We pray that everywhere upon this earth there may be justice and peace. We continue to pray for peace in the world, especially those involved in the fight against terrorism and those struggling to provide humanitarian aid. Lord, we pray for all people in their daily life and work - for our families, friends, and neighbours, and for those who are alone. We name before you individuals and families experiencing personal hardship or facing and uncertain future, those who are separated from loved ones, those who grieve this today, and those who are sick in hospital or ill at home. Hear us Lord as we now lift up those people and those situations you have placed upon our hearts.

May it please you, O Lord, to enlighten my heart with the fire of your love. I offer my hands to do your work, my lips to sing your praise and my life to proclaim your glory. Look upon my neighbours in their needs and guide me and bless me as I serve you in them; for Jesus' sake. Amen. Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179

May Jesus Christ, the King of glory, help us to make use of all the myrrh that God sends, and to offer him the true incense of our hearts; for his name's sake. Amen. Johannes Tauler, Germany, 1300-1361

 

Additional Resources

Meditation

Jesus using the phrase, this man, too, is a son of Abraham,’ could seem rather odd to the Jewish listeners, and even stranger to the Gentiles in the audience. But in using this phrase Jesus is pointing out that Zacchaeus is not a nobody, he’s a human being.  He’s also saying to the Jews that no Jew is more valuable to God than another, the Pharisee is no more valuable than the (chief) tax collector – all are equal in the sight of God.  Among his people Jesus would write no one off.  It was this basic tenet, permeating all of the Gospel of Luke, which underlies not just Jesus’ mission to the Jewish nation but extends it to His acceptance and invitation to the Gentiles to be part of God’s Kingdom. They, too, had to be included.  As Zacchaeus would find, God keeps an open table. Do we?
Sam Cappleman

Let us pray:
Lord, we give thanks for all that the earth has given in recent months, and we give thanks, too, for all the work of human hands. As the land lies fallow, at rest, remind us of our need to keep a healthy balance in our lives each day. Amen.

Commentary - Hope for Seekers

Things are not always what they seem! Commentary on Zacchaeus!
As the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus bid to Rome for the right to collect taxes. When Rome accepted his bid, Zacchaeus would then pay the taxes and tolls for his region in full. It was then up to him to recoup his money by collecting the taxes by the appropriate means and trying to make a profit if possible. This was often done through over-charging, cheating, charging interest, or other means. The tax collectors who collected these taxes, who would also take a cut for themselves, understandably therefore, gained a reputation for dishonesty and intimidation, especially as they had the might of the Roman Army behind them to help if necessary! However, whilst tax collecting might sound like a good number (nice work if you can get it), it appears that few tax collectors actually managed to recoup their bid and fewer still managed to make a profit. From what we can tell it would appear that Zacchaeus may be one of the few who did make a profit from this venture, although the phrase ‘and was wealthy’ might just mean that he had others (tax collectors) working for him as this was often a sign of wealth in the prevailing culture. But there’s no doubt that Jericho was a good place to be a tax collector. It was a prospering city with many rich people who were more than content to maintain the status quo with the Romans. It was an oasis of date palms and balsam groves and exported its products all over the known world. Mark Anthony presented Jericho as a gift to Cleopatra, with Arabia thrown in. It lay along the great caravan routes, and was a centre of commercial and human activity. It was, in short, a good place to collect taxes. The stakes would be high, but the rewards could be immense. Zacchaeus was therefore probably a rich, powerful and influential individual because of his position as the Chief Tax Collector and because of his position with the Roman forces, but because of his collusion with those forces, he was be despised by many people. By his very occupation many people would say that Zacchaeus had excluded himself from his people. He was a quisling who had thrown in his lot with the hated occupying power for the sake of pecuniary gain.

But the name Zacchaeus is an interesting name for Luke to use for a tax collector. The Hebrew word from which this name is formed means clean, pure, or innocent. So it would appear that Luke is writing a story about Mr Pure, Mr Innocent the Chief Tax Collector – how strange does that sound. But is it so strange? For example, one way of interpreting ‘here and now I give half my possessions to the poor’ is that this is something which Zacchaeus is already doing. If it was something that was precipitated by his encounter with Jesus then the language in the original text would probably have used a different (aorist) tense whereas the tense that is used (present) often describes something which is repeated customary practise. So perhaps giving to the poor was something Zacchaeus already did on a regular basis. And interestingly enough, Luke often uses the notion of giving alms to signify righteousness, a theme which he picks up in the closing verses of this passage. And we could say that Zacchaeus goes even further. Jewish law demanded that if someone cheated another they had to restore the original sum with 20% interest, Roman law that demanded fourfold restitution, and even then only from a convicted criminal. Zacchaeus therefore surpasses the Torah's requirements and meets the most stringent of terms in Roman law when he declares that if it’s found that he has cheated anyone, then he will compensate them.

So perhaps Luke is using this parable to emphasis Jesus’ teaching that we should treat people as individuals and not judge them on some preconceived notion of what we expect them to be. Even a Chief Tax collector, like a Pharisee, can be a ‘son of Abraham’. As Jesus and His disciples were moving towards Jericho Jesus has told the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector who went up to the temple to pray and comments that it was the tax collector who went home justified because of his actions and attitude. He’s also told the story of the rich young ruler who finds it so hard to enter the Kingdom of God because of his actions and attitude – the ruler is very wealthy and Jesus asks him to sell everything he has and to give to the poor. In Zacchaeus we see a tax collector who went home justified and a rich man who was able to give generously to the poor and who has entered the Kingdom of God as Abraham’s son. The passage is a reminder that Jesus looks for those who hear His word and put it into action, whatever their background; however they are perceived by society. It’s not just about listening to Jesus, as many of those who followed him around the country did on a regular basis; it’s about letting his teaching have an impact to change lives. Just as Isaiah condemns ritualistic piety without genuine actions so does Luke. The colours of scarlet and crimson were permanent colours, only God could change them back into pure white, as if they had never occurred. But in order for that to happen, Judah had to ensure their actions were commensurate with their words. Perhaps in the unlikely person of Zacchaeus we see an example of someone who does just that. Sam Cappleman

Meditation

On the death of Queen Elizabeth I of England, the throne passed to the son of her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. Uniting the two thrones would eventually lead to the joining of Scotland, England and Wales to form “Great Britain”. King James enforced some harsh anti-Catholic laws. A small group of Catholics conspired together in what is now known as the “Gunpowder Plot”. They placed 36 barrels of gunpowder in cellars underneath the House of Lords in the British Parliament. Guy Fawkes was to be the one who would light the fuse. It was intended that the explosion would kill the king and members of the Lords and Commons as they gathered for the State Opening of Parliament. One of the conspirators leaked details of the Plot, and Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellars. He was arrested, tortured and executed, along with the other conspirators. Parliament decreed that, from then on, bonfires should be lit each year on the 5th of November to celebrate the deliverance from the “Gunpowder Plot”. Nowadays a “guy” is often still burnt as a reminder of Guy Fawkes. In our own times, on the night before the State Opening of Parliament, there is a symbolic searching of the cellars of Parliament by the ceremonial ‘Yeomen of the Guard’, bearing lanterns.

Let us pray: God our Father, open our eyes to whatever may not be just and right in our own surroundings and in our society. Enable us to be of good influence and work in a non-violent way to promote understanding and better relationships that will lead to justice and peace. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

God of all grace, your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry with the bread of life and the word of his kingdom: renew your people with your heavenly grace and in all our weakness sustain us by your true and living bread; who is alive and reigns, now and for ever. Amen.