on the way with Jesus: a way of knowing ourselves

Luke 18:35-19:10

Because we celebrate Children’s Sabbath today,
I’ve been thinking about children in my sermon preparing.
And that is, in truth, what we normally do, isn’t it?
We bring whatever our particular circumstances are,
at any given time, to Scripture,
and those circumstances then inform how we hear,
and what we interpret and understand.
Though I believe, I do, that Scripture also speaks truth
to whatever particular circumstance we bring to it.

So we have two stories set in Jericho to consider today.
For readers of Luke’s gospel,
Jericho might well make us think of Luke’s story
of a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,
who fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him,
and went away, leaving him half dead
(Luke 10:30).

And now we have Jesus ready to get on that road
but going from Jericho to Jerusalem (so the other way),
where he will fall into the hands of well,
the last people you would think would be robbers, right?
Who are though—who will not strip him and beat him,
but, the other way around, beat him (Luke 22:63),
clothe him first (Luke 23:11) and then strip him (Luke 23:34b),
and go away leaving him not half-dead, but dead.
We have almost arrived at the final act of Luke’s gospel.
The last scenes are at hand.

But this morning, Jesus hasn’t left Jericho yet.
In fact, we have one story set on his way into Jericho—
the story of the blind man who hears that Jesus is coming
and calls out to be healed,
and we have the other story set on Jesus’ way through the city—
the story of Zacchaeus.

Usually we think about these stories separately.
In fact, several people who asked what we were focusing on
this morning in worship, when told, said, “Both? Both stories?”
The first one is, in fact, not even a lectionary text.
But I think there’s something important to consider
in considering both stories

First, we might note that we have two stories of individual initiative.
The blind man hears the commotion, asks what’s going on,
and when told that it was Jesus arriving,
shouts out to be healed, twice naming Jesus “Son of David”
and once “Lord”—clearly seeing in him authority and power.
And Zacchaeus, famously, climbs the tree
to try and see who Jesus was, the text reads
(as if that’s something you could see from a tree!).
He didn’t know to name him—
he didn’t see him as clearly as did the blind man,
but he knew he needed to try and see him.

And so because of such initiative,
we also have two stories of personal transformation—
two stories of people changing—of people being changed.
Two people encounter Jesus, and everything changes.

I want to focus on just a couple more things in each story.
Notice the exchange between Jesus and the blind man.
Jesus asked “What do you want me to do for you?”
Replied the blind man, “Lord, I want to see.”
And Jesus said, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”
What faith?
All he had said is that he wanted to see.

Is what we want our faith?
Now we do, in truth, believe what we want,
but maybe—maybe, just maybe,
we should think about Jesus telling the still blind man
to embrace the sight he has—the insight into who Jesus was.
“With your blind eyes, you see so much more clearly
what’s most important.”
And maybe—maybe, just maybe,
everyone rejoiced at the clarity of truth.

If that’s the case, then Jesus’ comment,
“Your faith has healed” you makes so much more sense.
“You believed in me and that has made you whole—
even if you believed I would heal you one way, and I healed you another.”
And how many more people could be healed
if it’s not about changing their circumstances—
circumstances that are hard or unfair or tragic,
but changing them within those circumstances
changing their perspective—
what and how they see themselves and Jesus
and the world and miracles.

How important to teach our children
to know the difference between what you want and what you believe,
and how what you believe is different than what you want—
or can be—and sometimes should be—
that even while Jesus may not have wanted to go to Jerusalem—
even if that felt all wrong and somehow completely backwards,
he believed he had to and he did.

And so, to also teach our children
what a miracle is and what it isn’t.
How it’s not just some magical suspension of the laws of science.
The church has, I believe, made the huge mistake
of turning miracles into magic.
And we talk about God’s power,
but it’s really that Jesus could do magic—
had a bunch of spells to heal people.
Jesus was Hogwarts before Hogwarts was cool.
But remember that wonderful verse in Mark’s gospel,
“And he could do no deed of power there,
except that he laid his hands on a few sick people
and cured them” (Mark 6:5).
So a miracle, we need to be more clear about it—
a miracle, whether circumstances change or not,
is a reshaping of reality through attitude, perspective and belief.

And it’s really not that I just have to go out of my way
to reject traditional understandings of Scripture. It really isn’t.
I just wonder if maybe we should focus on the greater miracle,
not the lesser—
the more relevant miracle—the kind still possible—
the miracles our children might know and name.

And then we have the story of the wee little man
who goes out of his way to try and see who Jesus was—
who is seen by Jesus
with whom he has lunch,
after which, nothing is the same.

And that’s another thing to make sure we try and teach our children:
who and what is truly important—
for whom and for what we should go out of our way,
shout like crazy even when people are looking at us disapprovingly,
and climb the tree even if they think we’re nuts.
Who’s that important? What’s that important?

And we’ve thought about Zacchaeus before, haven’t we?
we know what it means to be a chief tax collector.
did you know that “term appears nowhere else in Greek literature”
(Fred B. Craddock, Luke in Interpretation:
A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching

[Louisville: John Knox, 1990] 218)?
We know “[i]n a corrupt system the loftier one’s position,
the greater one’s complicity in that system.
While nothing of the private life of Zacchaeus is revealed in the story,
this much we know on principle: no one can be privately righteous
while participating in and profiting from
a program that robs and crushes other people”
(Craddock, 218).
And we know the way the romans set up tax collectors
(let alone, we presume, chief tax collectors)
was pretty much free license to rob your fellow citizens.

And we’ve done the math before together, haven’t we?
Zacchaeus’ wealth comes from cheating people.
So let’s say his wealth is—well, let’s say it’s 100 apples.
And right off the bat, after being with Jesus,
Zacchaeus says he’s going to give away half of all he has to the poor.
That’s 50 apples.
He gives 50 apples to the poor; he has 50 apples left over.
But then he goes on to say, “If I have defrauded anyone of anything,
I will pay back four times as much.”

So if his wealth of 100 apples come from cheating people
(which is our assumption of a chief tax collector)—
if all his wealth of 100 apples comes from cheating people,
but he’s paying back times four, he’s saying he owes 400 apples.
And he only has 50 left, remember?
So it’s not just that he owes four times what he had,
but after giving away half of what he had,
he owes eight times what he has!

And what we have here
is not some big financial pay off,
but a commitment to a life-long investment in community—

some profound sense that it wasn’t just him changed
in encounter with Jesus,
but his whole community—all of Jericho.

So
when we are transformed—
when we see who Jesus is
and who Jesus wants us to be,
then not only are we different,
but we live differently,
and we live with others in mind.
So it’s really as if the blind man sees who Jesus is,
and Zacchaeus sees what Jesus means.

And that’s another thing we need to teach our children—
not only what a miracle means—what a miracle is,
but also that if a miracle stops with me,
it isn’t worthy of the name.
For a miracle that stops with me, this story suggests,
does not affirm how small Zacchaeus was,
but reveals how small I am—
while a miracle that works through me
and keeps going—keeps going into the lives of others,
is a part of redeeming all creation.
And how big is that?

So let’s review.
Because I’m really not sure
there’s much that’s more important we have to teach our children—
and to remember ourselves

than to know what you want,
and to know what you believe,
and to know the difference between the two;
to know what a miracle is and what a miracle isn’t;
to know who and what is truly important;
and to know that the miracle of God’s love for us
extends into and through how we treat others—
whether we’re kind to other children,
whether we look out for the children who are left out,
whether we stand up for the children being teased and made fun of—
all of that, yes—
and whether we work—and work hard
to make the world a better place for all children.

And that, my friends, will determine,
whether we spend our lives waiting for the miracle
that will somehow change everything,
or whether we will see miracles all around us
every day
changing everything
all the time.

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