The Tax Man

The Tax Man, Teaching Segment Notes by Jen Kellner – January 29th, 2012

Have you ever been on the outskirts of a crowd?  Maybe at a parade or an art crawl or at a big fireworks display? What did it feel like to be at the edge longing for a better view… a closer experience of what was happening.  What would you do to get closer?  Imagine you were longing to see and be included, but feeling like you are not really supposed to be there.  Then.  Discovered.  Found by the very one you had come to see and startled that you should be noticed.  We’re looking at the story of Zaccheus whose famous tree-climbing act of desperation is sung about in this video.

I think there are 3 important things to notice here in this story:

    • Jesus’ hospitality and inclusion of Zaccheaus.  Not only does he call and beckon Z out of the tree, out of isolation into the crowd and to come beside him, Jesus actually invites himself over to stay at his home.
    • The crowd’s reaction to this hospitality and inclusion of this person  – trying to shame Jesus because of his associations.
    • Zacchaeus’ response of restitution

Jesus noticed and saw Zacchaeus.   Not only does he call and beckon Z out of the tree, out of isolation into the crowd and to come beside him – Jesus actually invites himself over to stay at his home.  When someone is on the outside, it is unreasonable to expect them to reach out… living in

Why was being a tax collector so evil?  Zacchaeus worked for the oppressive people who ripped them off, took their money and cheated them.  They were notorious for collecting more than was required and lining their pockets.  They are also had the power to make life very difficult by getting you in trouble with the Romans and bringing false accusations.  They were seen by the Jewish people as working for the ‘enemy’ and exploited others for their own gain.  Seen as the worst kind of despicable sinner.  The crowd questioned Jesus’ wisdom of going to his house.  Why would you associate with someone who was so obviously messed up and a terrible person? the shame of exclusion is isolating (regardless of income level) and sometimes we need to leave our space and enter into that isolated space with that person.

  • There is a story that is coming to light out of Seattle –  which some of you may know of.  There was a member of their church community who they felt was acting in an unrepentant way and living in sin because he would not agree to their church’s disciplinary procedures which he felt was controlling and abusive.. (even though he had come to the church leadership, acknowledged what he had done, apologized and was ceasing that behaviour)
  • Mars Hill posted a letter online and used the phrase “Gospel Shame” in instructing the other members of the church in how to interact and treat this person.  Basically, not to hang out with him, eat with him, allow him back into the church and they based it on a few proof text verses of the Bible that were taken out of context.  The one that really stood out to me was Matthew 17:18..

Matt 17:18 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

  • Jesus’ example of how to treat a tax collector is not to isolate, exclude, judge or push away until he comes to repentance… his example is to invite himself over to eat with him and be in community with him.

Zacchaeus’ response to this invitation is to stop and is inspired to make restitution to those he has ripped off before.  To give half of what he owns away to the poor.  (an interesting side note is that in comparison to the story of the rich young ruler who was asked to give away all of his possessions, giving merely half away brings joy to Jesus in this story.  Which makes me think that it’s more about having a generous spirit than it is about a formula for rich people to enter into kingdom living)

    • Z doesn’t become defensive and defend himself
    • he skips over the formal apology part and guilt and moves right into the action of making it right.

I think this viagra commercial 2014 story is so much more than just good material for a catchy Sunday School song.  I think it is a beautiful expression of the kingdom.  The gathering in and movement from distant isolation to the generous hospitality of being in the presence of Jesus, regardless of what we do or have done.  This story is about how that experience transforms each of us on our life journeys and transitions us into co-creators of the kingdom.  People who are not merely in the world, but people who discover Jesus’ generous kingdom and by our actions actually make it manifest.