Saturday, March 27, 2010

Luke 19:1-27

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner."
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."
9 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.'
14 "But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.'
15 "He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
16 "The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.'
17 " 'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.'
18 "The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned five more.'
19 "His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.'
20 "Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.'
22 "His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?'
24 "Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.'
25 " 'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!'
26 "He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.'"

Points of Interest:
• ‘he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy’—if tax collectors are like gangsters, Zacchaeus is a mob boss.

• ‘Zacchaeus, come down’—this is apparently the first time they’ve ever met, but Jesus knows Zacchaeus’ name. He is noticed, known, and welcomed.

• ‘I must stay at your house today’—the ‘must’ reminds me of the father of the lost son saying, ‘we had to celebrate . . . ‘(15:32). Another lost son has been found. When something lost is found, you can’t help but throw a party.

• ‘All the people saw this and began to mutter’—this time it’s not just the Pharisees and teachers, but all the people, who mutter. Perhaps Zacchaeus is so notorious that it’s a bigger scandal than before, or maybe Judeans are more sensitive to this kind of impropriety than Galileans.

• ‘Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor’—Zacchaeus recognizes his need to repent. He recalibrates himself from serving Money to serving God. It’s interesting to me that Zacchaeus understands immediately that following Jesus calls for a radically different approach to money. Somehow, money seems to have a lot less of a grip on this chief tax collector than it does on the Pharisees or even on the rich ruler from yesterday’s passage.

• ‘if I have cheated anybody’—it’s unlikely that he would have gotten as rich as he has without cheating. So, it’s frankly surprising to me that he would even have enough money left to pay people back fourfold, seeing as he’s already promised to give away half of his wealth. I may be wrong, but I don’t think Zacchaeus will have much money left by the time he’s done. Zacchaeus is simultaneously plea bargaining with his adversaries before he gets to the judge (12:58) and making friends who will welcome him into eternal dwellings (16:9). He knows how to be shrewd with worldly wealth.

• ‘people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once’—Jesus has been making his way very deliberately toward Jerusalem for quite some time now; and Jerusalem, being David’s capital, would be the natural capital for the Messiah as well. So, people have gained the reasonable impression that Jerusalem is the finish line: as soon as he gets there, Jesus will unveil the kingdom of God. While it is, to a great degree, the climax of Jesus’ earthly career, it’s really only the beginning for his followers. It will be a while before the kingdom of God is fully established, and the disciples have a lot of work to do in the meantime.

• ‘went to a distant country to have himself appointed king’—this story is ‘ripped from the headlines.’ The kings of Roman satellite kingdoms would have to have their kingships confirmed by Rome. Just like in this story, Herod Archelaus—the brother of the Herod who arrested John—had to travel to Rome to have his authority confirmed, and he had a delegation sent to contest his rule. Jesus too is going away—to heaven—to have his kingship confirmed by God.

• ‘gave them ten minas’—this would be about three months’ wages for an average laborer—let’s call it in the neighborhood of eight or ten thousand dollars. It would probably seem like quite a substantial amount to the servants, but would only represent a very small proportion of the nobleman’s wealth.

• ‘your mina has earned ten more’—this first servant makes a thousand percent return on his investment. These are amazing, unreal profits. He certainly does put the money to work.

• ‘take charge of ten cities’—the ten minas were just a test. The nobleman was about to become a king, and he wanted to know who he could trust to help him rule his kingdom: ‘Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much’ (16:10).
This story presents us with the amazing idea that this entire life is just a test. Jesus is going away to be made a king. Everything we have is something Jesus has given us to put to work until he returns. In the next life, Jesus will give us authority in his kingdom proportional to the profits we are able to make for him in this one. Life as we know it is just the practice round. Eternal life in the kingdom of God is the real thing. But that doesn’t mean that this life doesn’t matter: how we do in practice has a big effect on what position we play in the big game– If we’re sticking with our relational view of life, is it dangerous to call this life the “practice round?”—or whether we get to play at all.

• ‘I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth’—he was told to put the money to work, but instead he wraps it up and keeps it in a safe place. This third servant is not at all a shrewd manager. He tries to play it safe, seemingly because he’s afraid of what the nobleman would do to him if he lost the money. By setting his sights on not losing the money, he completely wastes it. I get the feeling that the nobleman would have been far more pleased with a servant who invested the money and lost it than with someone who didn’t even try. In fact, I don’t think it’s incidental that in the way Jesus tells the story, no one who actually tries to put the money to work loses money; to try is to win.

• ‘You knew, did you, that I am a hard man’—actually, he doesn’t seem like a hard man at all. He gives the servants his own money to invest, and then he lets them keep the profits—besides giving them charge over cities. That’s the exact opposite of taking out what you did not put in. The king is pointing out, though, that the third servant’s actions aren’t even consistent with his own mistaken ideas of the king: if the king expects to reap where he didn’t sow, why wouldn’t the servant at least have invested the mina in the bank, where it would be utterly safe and yet make interest? Either the third servant is exceedingly fearful, or he’s lazy, or he is ashamed to be associated with the nobleman because some of the citizens don’t want him to be king.

• 'he already has ten’—letting the third servant keep the mina would do no good to anyone. It would only serve to cause the third servant more worry, without bringing anyone any profit. Meanwhile, the first servant has shown that he is willing and able to put the mina to good use. Why wouldn’t the king put the mina into his hands?

• ‘bring them here and kill them in front of me’—they’ve made it clear that they don’t want him to be king, but his kingship is inevitable. This is the only way to give them what they want.

Taking it home:
For you and your family: Pray that God would give you the boldness and savvy of the first two servants. Ask God to help you do good business with what he’s given you, and pray for good eternal profits from your investments.

For your friends: Pray that the Holy Spirit would be at work in the consciences of your friends. Pray that God would be guiding them toward areas of their life that need recalibration, and that he would give them the willingness and the ability to make the necessary course corrections. Pray that God would give them joy as they make those choices.

For our city: Pray for God’s mercy on our city. Pray that New Haven would be places that welcome Jesus’ kingship, rather than resisting it.