The people mutter, “Jesus has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” And they were right. Zacchaeus was a sinner of the worst kind. He had gotten rich from collaborating with invaders and by fleecing his neighbors. So, his neighbors regarded him as human filth. His name became a sneer on the lips of fellow Jews. He was a standing joke. But for some reason, Jesus chooses to dine with the most hated man in town.
I am lost. I am finished. My life is over. My luck has finally run out. I knew what the law was, I broke the law, and now I must pay. There are no more chances for me. I am out of appeals. There will be no last-minute legal maneuvering. There is no possibility of rescue or a miracle. This is the end. These thoughts may have gone through the mind of one of the criminals who was crucified with Jesus. But something caused the man to make an unreasonable request of Jesus. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus’ response to this request was startling.
There is a big difference between works and grace. The difference is life-changing. But, it’s easy to miss. Fortunately, Jesus tells a parable of a tax collector and Pharisee, which brings the issue starkly into the light.
Every parent knows the frustration of buying Christmas gifts that sit unused while the empty boxes become the child’s source of joy. That expensive gift you put a lot of thought into for your loved one is now set aside and forgotten. The toy that your child yearned for over the months is suddenly left sitting in the corner unused. What is the most incredible thank you the giver can receive? It is seeing the gift becomes a regular part of the recipient’s life. As Christians, during Christmas, we know we celebrate the gift of Jesus coming into the world. And we realize that the most significant way we can show our thanks is by availing ourselves of that gift. How might God’s gift to us affect our daily lives?
On this first Sunday in Advent, we focus on Mary’s Magnificat. It is a beautiful song that is confrontational. There is nothing meek or mild about Mary’s song. At times governments have prohibited the out-loud reading of this song by Mary. How might it direct our living today?
Jesus said, “I am the gate.” Some of his listeners understood part of what he meant but there is a deeper meaning. A meaning they had difficulty comprehending. When we go through the gate, Jesus talks about we discover new possibilities and leave our past behind. Going through the gate promises a new life.
Maybe you can’t imagine forgiving certain people in your life. Yet Jesus says that before we can fully worship God we are to be reconciled with our brother or sister. We know that forgiveness is one response to hurt and separation that we can choose but how do we work through the feelings and resistance we may have to forgive those who have hurt us deeply.
While Jesus is at a dinner with Pharisees a prostitute crashes the party. She walks into Simon’s house. He may have let out a gasp. She has perfumed ointment in her hand. Why does she come to find Jesus? Why does she bring such expensive oil? Why does she crash the party?
Why did a woman with a bad reputation bring expensive perfume and anoint Jesus’ feet with it? There is a back story that Luke is not telling us. What happened earlier in the day? What encounter did Jesus have with this woman? As Pastor Fred explores this story we may find it has transformative effects in our life.
Jesus often went to great lengths to meet outcasts. He broke social, racial, religious and cultural taboos to offer them a relationship with him through living water. Jesus’ grace surprised an outcast woman of Samaria so much that she went and told everybody about the Messiah. How might that living water speak to us?