Jesus even links salvation to the use of possessions
Today, we look at another aspect of the stewardship of our possessions from the Gospel of Luke: the connection between salvation and use of our possessions. In the following reading from Luke, we will hear echoes from Monday’s passage quoting the teaching of John the Baptist.
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 am giving to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I am paying back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation came 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” (Luke19:1-10).
To the right is a photo of an ancient sycamore tree located in Jericho. Pilgrims to the Holy Land can well imagine Zacchaeus climbing this tree to get a better view of Jesus as he passes through town. In the ancient Palestine of Jesus and the first disciples, tax collectors were despised figures.
• They were seen to be collaborators with
the occupational forces and administrators of the hated Roman
Empire, collecting taxes and tolls from
those who could ill afford to pay them.
• Here, we read about a “chief” tax collector, which puts Zacchaeus at the top of this undesirable group.
• We are also told he is wealthy, which is no surprise: tax collectors often unscrupulously took excessive fees for themselves, in addition to what they collected for Rome.
• Not surprisingly, then, he is called a “sinner” by the grumbling bystanders. Despite his status as a social outcast, Zacchaeus goes to great lengths to get close to Jesus.
• To the surprise and consternation of the crowd, Jesus invites Zacchaeus to get even closer and suggests that they dine together at his home.
• We are told Zacchaeus happily welcomes Jesus as his guest.
• He is eager to tell Jesus about his own generosity with his possessions.
Notice that the important verbs in this passage are in the present tense.
• Zacchaeus tells Jesus that he is giving half of his possessions to the poor.
• Similarly, says Zacchaeus, when he discovers that he has cheated someone, he is repaying that person four times the original amount.
• Many translations of this passage (including the NRSV) fail to appreciate the present tense of these two verbs.
• In essence, Zacchaeus is presenting to Jesus for evaluation his current practices regarding money.
In every way, Jesus affirms Zacchaeus and the way he uses his money.
• The fact that Zacchaeus now enjoys “salvation” and status as a “son of Abraham,” signifies his inclusion in the community of God’s people.
• Thus, Zacchaeus is not, in fact, an outsider, but an insider in the real community; he has shifted allegiance from taking care only of his own household; he is now a member of God’s household by virtue of his generous care for others in that household.
• His commitment to the proper and generous use of his possessions points to his faithfulness in conforming his practices to the values of Jesus’ ministry and mission.
• He embodies the qualities of people who experience the kingdom of God that is already present in the world.
Questions for reflection
• Can you name some people you view as social “outcasts,” who nevertheless use their possessions in ways that reflect the qualities and values of Jesus’ ministry?
• Most of us do not come close to giving half of our money to the poor. What are some ways you might respond to this teaching from Jesus?
• Most of us are not involved in actions that defraud others. From time to time, however, we do get into situations where we consciously or unconsciously take advantage of someone else. Do you find yourself in such a situation now? What might this passage require of you?
O God of many surprises: Grant us the humility to recognize all those who welcome your loving embrace; give us eyes to see the faithfulness of everyone whose actions please you; and fill us with the wisdom and confidence to use our money in ways that help us to know and experience the salvation you offer us always. Amen.