Yesterday I participated in a memorial service of a faithful sister who died of cancer. Although I and the rest of the congregation will miss her wit and warmth, it was such a joy to celebrate a life well and faithfully lived. And it was because she was someone who knew and loved God’s word. Keep active in reading God’s, but better still, practice what you read. Speaking of which, let’s look into today’s reading…
Be merciful to me, the sinner — Luke 18:9-14
This relatively famous parable gives strong contrast to two different approaches to faith and religion, a self-righteous, self-absorbed Pharisee and a self-aware tax-collector. In the eyes of the world, the Pharisee was far and away the most religious and righteous of the two; he’s the guy that you’d expect to be heading to Heaven. Of the two it was the tax-collector that you’d least expect to even be in the Temple. It was not the best exterior that God was paying attention to, however; it was their unseen hearts that God saw. The point that Jesus makes here is that it is the sincere repentance of the heart that God is interested in. All men and women sin. A great many (religious and irreligious) try to hide it, minimize it, justify it, excuse it, make up for it with “good works”, or ignore it in themselves — like the Pharisee. Others, however, mess up, ‘fess up, and change up — “up” being an operative word here, because the trend of their lives are trending up — like the tax-collector. Jesus said the tax-collector beat his chest in grief, wouldn’t even look upward, and prayed only a simple, humble, repentant, blame-accepting prayer, “Be merciful to me, the sinner.” No wonder the tax-collect went home justified rather than the Pharisee.
Real repentance — Luke 19:1-10
And speaking of repentance, we come to the story of Zaccheus — interestingly enough a tax-collector. There are a couple of interesting parts to this story that I’ll make brief comment on: 1) the wonderful characteristic of Jesus to recognize genuine spiritual interest in the most unlikely of people and 2) what genuine repentance looks like and does.
Don’t you just love how Jesus time and again calls the easily overlooked? Yes, He certainly talked to His share of religious leaders and top tier people, but He never overlooked any of the lower tier people. The love of our Lord is indeed wide. No one’s too short or tall, fat or thin, black or white, liberal or conservative, smart or slow, well educated or not educated at all, male or female, old or young, rich or poor, handsome or homely, ancient or modern, handicapped or whole, Jew or Gentile. Aren’t you glad His love was wide enough to include you? Pay it forward, then.
And then, Zaccheus’ repentance was no mere law-keeping requirement. According to Leviticus 6:5, he was only liable to return the amount unlawfully taken, plus 1/5. But Zaccheus offered to pay back 4x whatever he had taken by fraud (tax-collectors were famous for collecting much more than they had to and keep the profit). How serious do we get about repentance?
The stones will cry out — Luke 19:40
I’ve always loved this story, especially since I traveled to Jerusalem — it’s a very rocky, stony place. As Jesus came into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey the multitudes welcomed Him with shouts that (rightly) attributed divinity to Him. The religious leaders at the event were deeply offended and called on Jesus to rebuke them. Jesus’ response probably blew their socks off — if they had worn them, anyway. “If these become silent, the stones will cry out!” The creation would gladly shout Hosanna to the Creator, if they could — and in Jerusalem that would have been quite the roar!
Render to Caesar — Luke 20:25
Although there are those who want to withdraw from civic life — voting, politics, paying taxes, etc. — Jesus never required this of His people. Indeed, there is a strong argument to be involved in this passage, giving to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s — it’s just that that God MUST have first place.
Lee you tomorrow, Lord willing