Friend of sinners, outcasts, and justice workers

Our Gospel reading (Lk 19:1-10) contains the story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector and social outcast.  It shows us the Jesus who is a friend of sinners and the outcast; also, Jesus as a friend of justice and peace in our local community.

This idea of Jesus as the friend of the outcast, and of social justice reminds me a man named Trevor Huddleston and his work in Soweto.

Soweto is a large residential area near Johannesburg in South Africa.  Millions of black South Africans were forced to move to Soweto in the 1950s.  It was a horrific case of racial oppression.  Trevor Huddleston poured out his life to oppose and counteract this.  Part of the story appears in his book, Naught for your Comfort. 

Trevor worked to alleviate suffering for example by speaking out against Apartheid, by organizing for the only swimming pool there in Soweto; but also by changing and lifting up individual lives.  Trevor gave a trumpet to the youthful Hugh Masekela, who has become one of the great jazz musicians of the world.  And again, Trevor befriended the youthful Desmond Tutu, who has become a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and “the voice of the voiceless”.

He was driven out of South Africa.  I met him, and he was like a true prophet. In a sense, Trevor Huddleston was like the Jesus who is a friend of outcasts; and he was like the Jesus who highlights community justice.

We find this same element of faith in and friendship with God by contrast with social oppression in the other readings — Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32, and in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12.

In our gospel reading, the surrounding community condemned Zacchaeus. Jesus did not condemn the behavior of Zacchaeus. Rather he befriended him and visited his house.  When Jesus pronounced the salvation of Zacchaeus in verse 9, Jesus did not even suggest that such sins as unfair extraction of money had even existed at all (Fitzmyer Luke: 1221). Rather, to the contrary, Jesus here announced that Zacchaeus was righteous, “a son of Abraham”, since Zacchaeus said that he was concerned for justice, “giving half his goods to the poor”.

In the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus did not attack wealth.  Rather this: In the Gospel of St Luke, Jesus insisted on the fact that all believers in Jesus must seek justice, and must share her or his assets with those that suffer or those that are poor.

We can see this when we look back at what Jesus said just one chapter before.  Back there, very close by, in Luke 18:18-23, there, Jesus challenged the rich lawyer or magistrate to share his possessions. However, that rich lawyer or magistrate would not concur with the challenge or invitation of Jesus.  He would not share his possessions with others. He walked away from Jesus.

In today’s  Gospel reading of Zacchaeus (Luke 19), we have the opposite.  We have in this gospel reading the story of a wealthy person Zacchaeus.  For the sake of justice, Zacchaeus shared his possessions to those who were poor, or to those who felt cheated,.

The meaning of the name Zacchaeus is “righteous”.  This man Zacchaeus behaved in way that befitted his name.  Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus, and showed to Jesus that he had understood Jesus’ ministry and message.  Zacchaeus showed that he had a concern for the long history of faith of father Abraham, for justice, for the poor and for the cheated (Fitzmyer Luke: 1222).

In verse 5 of our Gospel reading from St Luke, we must notice the phrase “it is necessary”, as well as “today” that Jesus was to enter the home of Zacchaeus.   These are important words and phrases.  Luke’s custom is to employ these words to describe the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ, especially, that it is is necessary to go to the cross.  But, or also, here it is equally necessary to join himself to people like Zacchaeus; to recognize the importance of people of faith – of children of (the rich man) Abraham — who know how to share their assets. 

It is of people that work together towards a just future, that care for those that suffer that Jesus says, “I must visit your house today.”  It is of people (poor and rich) that work together towards a just future, that care for those that suffer that Jesus says (to Zacchaeus), “Salvation has come to this house today.”

But it is to those people who do not know how to share their material goods and assets to, it is they who walk away from Jesus; or, it is to people like them, it is to them that God in Jesus says “I do not know you.”  Of these two kinds of people, what kind of person are you and I?  Where do you and I stand?  Would you and I welcome Jesus?  Would Jesus come into your house or mine?

Working together on something important to a wonderful effect appeared at the annual Convention of our Diocese of Western Massachusetts yesterday, Saturday October 29 2016. We heard from perhaps up to a hundred people and parishes about their work over the last year, and what they planned for the future. We heard loving companionship messages from the Jewish and the Muslim community.  It was so inspiring!

One parish served Vets, some of whom said it was their only social event in the week.  Others served refugees from Syria.  Another example was supporting the Native Americans of Dakota as they try so hard to preserve the environment in their area against the forcible and insanely risky installation of an oil pipeline under the Missouri river that feeds into the Mississippi, an artery of the United States of America.

God’s call is to you and me as well.  Will we respond, like Zacchaeus and Trevor Huddleston?  

Jesus, the friend of sinners and outcasts visits us and reconciles us to God.  When we respond in faith, hope and love, our lives blossom and flower with true and laudable service, justice and peace in the earth.

Our prayer today: “It is only by your gift, Lord, that your faithful people offer you true and worthy service. Help us with your grace and heavenly promises, through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Sunday, October 30, 2016

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