Bible · Following Jesus

Zacchaeus – A Very Little Man

I’m reading from the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament. The story of Zacchaeus.

1 Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.

When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”

Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.

Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

When I was a child, we used to sing this little chorus:
Zacchaeus was a very little man,
and a very little man was he.
He climbed up into a sycamore tree,
for the Saviour he wanted to see.
And when the Saviour passed that way,
he looked up in the tree,
[Spoken] and said, ‘Now Zacchaeus, you come down,
for I’m coming to your house for tea.’

I’m coming to your house for tea.’

Zacchaeus worked for the occupying power – Rome. He was a Jew who taxed his fellow Jews on behalf of Rome. It was a system ripe for corruption, and Zachaeus had got rich on the proceeds. Zacchaeus represents the powers. Power that keeps people in poverty, as they are unfairly treated by the taxation system. The poor have had what was righfully theirs taken away from them in a system that has extorted an unfair burden of taxation.

In this situation, the Gospel – which means ‘Good news,’ – has an immediate economic outcome for the good of the poor that have been exploited by Zacchaeus. He turns the system that has built in economic inequality on its head as he promises to pay back those he has cheated.

Jesus’ comment is that not only has salvation come to the house of Zacchaeus, but that Zacchaeus must be considered once more as a true ‘Son of Abraham.’ In defrauding his fellow Jews, he had ‘forgotten who he was and given up his true identity for the sake of gain.’ * The transformation that resulted from his encounter with Jesus has not only benefitted the poor whom he had exploited, but has also given him back his true indentity.

As I read this passage today, it took me back to singing that chorus in my childhood, and a realisation that the heart of the story is missing from the chorus! Once again, we see that overturning injustice is at the heart of the Gospel.

When we become embroiled in systems that are intrinsically unjust, do we also lose some of our true self, and accept an identity that is less than our calling as children of God ? May we discover more of our true selves as those in the company of Jesus.

* Walter Brueggemann in ‘Gift and Task’ page 375.

Bible · Political

The Blessings Of The Righteous or … Is This How It Is ?

Psalm 112

1 Praise the Lord!
Happy are those who fear the Lord,
who greatly delight in his commandments.
2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in their houses,
and their righteousness endures for ever.
4 They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright;
they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
5 It is well with those who deal generously and lend,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
6 For the righteous will never be moved;
they will be remembered for ever.
7 They are not afraid of evil tidings;
their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.
8 Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
9 They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;
their righteousness endures for ever;
their horn is exalted in honour.
10 The wicked see it and are angry;
they gnash their teeth and melt away;
the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

I nearly always get something new out of a reading from holy scripture. It’s not always what I expect.

There are three kinds of people in this psalm – The Righteous, The Wicked and The Poor.

Think about the people labelled ‘the righteous.’ It seems like they are OK and they have enough to live and enough to give. They are‘ good people.’ They are generous towards the poor, and there’s nothing wrong in that.

Then there are the wicked and the poor. I wonder, does this system ever change. Is there the potential for transforming the status quo, or not ?

It almost seems like everyone is in their allotted stations in life, and the role of the righteous is simply to be generous.

Added to this is the grammatical structure of the psalm. The righteous and the wicked are both subjects in the sentences, whilst the poor are objects.

The righteous are gracious ….. they are active in the way they live

The wicked are angry … also active in the way they live

But where the poor are concerned, they are passive. The righteous have given to the poor. The poor are on the receiving end of charity.

I know there are many passages that speak of righting injustice, but this appears to accept the ways things are.


Following the Palestinian Kitchen

Greenbelt … For the last 20 years, we’ve been making an annual pilgrimage to the Greenbelt Festival of Arts, Faith and Activism each August Bank Holiday. Sadly, it’s not happening this year, but there is an online mix of what Greenbelt has to offer in this year’s ‘Wild At Home.’

Craftivism … I love it when someone brings activism together with their other passions – as in Craftivism, described by Sarah Corbett, its founder as ‘Gentle protest to provoke reflection and respectful conversation instead of aggression and division’

Cooking … Another example of this is Phoebe Rison’s Palestinian Kitchen – Personal, Political, Palestinian & Delicious. I watched her cooking this week on one of the latest Greenbelt ‘Wild At Home’ online events. ‘m currently trying to cook a few Palestinian dishes, so this video was perfect for me.

Personal … What is even more exciting than the cooking, is the commentary from Phoebe and her mum Nadia. They talk clearly and powerfully telling their own personal stories. Sadly, a large part of that story is one of great hurt to the Palestinian people. You’ll have to look elsewhere to find out more, I’m not an authority on this subject, but what I do know is that the impact of Israeli land grabbing has caused much injustice.

Water … One of the issues that I wasn’t aware of until this week was the vital importance of water supply. In the UK, we take our water for granted, but I’m guessing that for a majority of the world’s population that is not the case. A major issue in the Jordan valley is access to water. What Palestinian farmers have to contend with is not only the increasing occupation by Israel, but Israel’s control of water. On the Youtube video above, Amost Trust director Chris Rose talks more about this – 34:40 into the video.

BDS … So to action. BDS stands for Boycotting, Divestment and Sanctions. Boycotting means not buying goods and services from any company that profits from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Divestment is all about not investing in thse companies – so for someone like me that means writing to e.g. Government, Churches etc to lobby them to stop investing. Sanctions again means lobbying our government to put economic pressure on Israel.

Please … Have a think about all of this. Look at the Amost Trust website for example to see how a relatively small charity is making an impact for good on the day to lives of ordinary people.

Grace and peace.