Red Letter Year: 8/29

Luke 18.35 – 19.10

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind beggar was sitting beside the road. 36 When he heard the noise of a crowd going past, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him that Jesus the Nazarene was going by. 38 So he began shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 “Be quiet!” the people in front yelled at him.

But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. As the man came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord,” he said, “I want to see!”

42 And Jesus said, “All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” 43 Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus, praising God. And all who saw it praised God, too.

19 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.”

Comments

Between the rich ruler who rejects Jesus and the rich ruler who accepts Jesus, Luke positions the healing of a blind man. Mark and Matthew place this event as Jesus is exiting Damascus. Luke has it as he is entering because it serves (in part) to transition from the blind ruler to the ruler who wants to see – climbs a tree so he can see – and is healed by receiving Jesus and his Gospel.

The difference between what Jesus commanded the (nameless) rich ruler to do – give everything to the poor – and what Zaccheus offers (with no command) – giving half to the poor – is significant in one respect: that the command to sell possessions, like all commands, comes in specificity. Neither the command the one refuses to obey, nor the freely given obedience of the other may be taken as an exact model to follow. Instead, each must do what Jesus commands, whether it is to sell everything, or to come down from a tree and follow.

Luke uses the present tense here, indicating that what Zaccheus describes was his standing practice, not a one-time event that was the result of a conversion, but an ongoing, regular practice. He was already following the most stringent interpretation of Torah and thus not deserving of his reputation as a notorious sinner. His generosity had not impoverished him but his possessions held no hold on him. They were not the impediment for him they were for the other rich ruler.

And so it must be with us. As we saw yesterday, we can expect Jesus to demand from us whatever gets in the way of having an intimate relationship with him. The rich ruler stands as a warning for us. Zaccheus stands as an example of what it looks like to follow Jesus. Camels don’t fit through the eyes of needles, except when a miracle has occurred. The grace of God transforms our hearts in such a miraculous way as to make living like Zaccheus possible for us too. Then we will be able to say, ‘I was blind, but now I see. I was a slave, but now I am free.’

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 8/28

Luke 18.18-34

18 Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. 20 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’”

21 The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”

22 When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

23 But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.

24 When Jesus saw this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich those who have money to enter the Kingdom of God! 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

26 Those who heard this said, “Then who in the world can be saved?”

27 He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.”

28 Peter said, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.”

29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, 30 will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”

31 Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus said, “Listen, we’re going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. 32 He will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. 33 They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise again.”

34 But they didn’t understand any of this. The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about.

Comments

Luke makes three significant changes in the story of the rich ruler. First of all, he is not a young man in Luke’s account. Instead he is both an active ruler and extremely wealthy. This makes him a candidate to be on the wrong end of the coming reversal. No one fitting his description has been anything but hostile to Jesus since he started toward Jerusalem. Still, he is either asking a serious question or at the very least Jesus treats the question as serious. It is impossible to tell if the man had actually kept the commandments as he claimed or if he is delusional like the last Pharisee. Jesus doesn’t argue his claim, because whether he has kept them or not, his problem is not one of rule-breaking, it is one of idol worship. As he does so well, Jesus goes straight to the heart of the matter with a prophetic command. It is a serious command and it seems both Jesus and the rich ruler are disappointed it doesn’t work out.

The second change Luke makes is that the rich ruler does not leave. In Mark and Matthew, he goes away sad after Jesus gives him the one command he won’t keep. But in Luke he remains present to hear what Jesus has to say, which applies to him but also much more broadly. Note the change I made to the NLT. It is not just rich people Jesus is talking about here, but all those who have money. Uh oh. That encompasses a lot more of us. And just in case you’ve heard bad teaching on this before, let me clear something up. When Jesus uses the words “camel and needle,” he means just what you’d expect: a desert pack animal with humps and a little sharp thing you sew with. There never was such thing as a “Needle Gate” and no people or camels knelt down to get through it. That is nothing more than fanciful nonsense concocted to insulate us against the very invasive claim Jesus is making on us here. We will mitigate this somewhat with the story of Zaccheus, which Luke positions just after this story for that very reason. But know this, you follower of Jesus: at any point Jesus can demand of you everything, all your possessions, all of whatever you have positioned between you and God. When that happens (and I promise it will), you will have two choices: do what Jesus commands or stop following him. I would like another way as much as anyone, but there isn’t one.

Speaking of giving things up – this passage ends with Luke’s last cross prediction and the most explicit one yet. It’s hard to argue about giving up stuff to a Savior who has given up literally everything he had to give. I don’t mean to belittle the hardness and reality of our own sacrifices (some of mine have been excruciating), but follow the dialogue here (my paraphrase).

Peter: we’ve given up everything to follow you.

Jesus: I know and it will be okay and totally worth it. In the end you won’t have lost anything and you will have gained a lot.

Peter: sounds good.

Jesus: Oh, by the way, we’re heading to Jerusalem so these angry religious leaders can torture and kill me, fyi.

Peter: huh?

Once we get past the “huh” stage, what can we possibly say, except yes? Which brings us to Zaccheus and tomorrow’s passage…

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.