When the Impossible Happens

In the last chapter, we heard Jesus say that it is next to impossible for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. The rich man walked away rich but lost. In this chapter, the same story comes to a different conclusion.

The chief tax collector, rich on other people's money, seems to have a complete change of heart. Before he even talks to Jesus, before he hears any wise or challenging words, the short man who everybody hates completely forgets himself and climbs a tree just to sneak a glimpse of Jesus.

Then, for some unknown reason, Jesus pays attention to him and says he wants to visit his house. Unlike the previous rich man story, Zacchaeus was not hunting for a free ticket to heaven. Jesus did not need to talk about the commandments or give any teaching at all.


Rules or Relationship

"What do I do to get eternal life?" The rich man is asking the same question all of us ask. What do we DO? How do we earn heaven? How good of a person do I need to be? We want easy answers, a step-by-step process, or a procedure to follow.

Jesus first tells the man to follow the commandments, to which he replies that he has followed them from birth. The rich man thinks of the commandments as a set of rules, but the Ten Commandments (and all the Law) are really about relationship. Just take a look; every one of the Ten Commandments speaks to relationship, whether with God, our parents, our wife, or neighbors.


Pay Attention to Yourselves

The way of the world, and the easiest way indeed, is to keep a very accurate record of everybody's sins but our own. We tend to downplay our own faults, but talk through every detail of everybody else's.

In verses three and four of chapter 17, Jesus keeps our involvement in other people's sins to a bare minimum. "If your brother sins, rebuke him". He spends many more words and explanation on forgiving. The opening phrase to these two verses sums up the key thought, "Pay attention to yourselves!"


Managing Earthly and Heavenly Resources

How do we begin to approach Jesus's affirming words of the shrewd money manager in chapter 16? Use money to make friends? We do not hear too many sermons on that one.

Not until we dig into the last few verses of Jesus's explanation of the parable do we begin to understand his point. Worldly wealth (mammon) in itself is neither good nor evil. Our use of it, however, is what is good or evil. Jesus tells us to use this world's resources to accomplish truly eternal purposes.


The Love of the Father

As much as we may try to understand it, the love of the Father remains a mystery to us. Even if we see a perfect example, our view of love is distorted by our past experiences with humans, who rarely love fully and unconditionally.

In chapter 14, we saw Jesus dining with the Pharisees, which did not go so well. Whether they were trying to persuade Jesus over to their side or just to figure out where he stood, by chapter 15, they have a much better idea of what they think of him. Now, they are grumbling about his choice of friends.

In answer to their questions, Jesus gave them three illustrations, not of the Father's laws, justice, or equality, but of the Father's love: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. The last story, that of the prodigal son, is so personal and applicable for all of us.


Is It Lawful

Here we see Jesus going to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. As much as they hated him and he preached against them and their ways, we would not expect them to dine together as many times as they do in the Gospels.

In one word, what was Jesus's point of contention with the Pharisees? Legalism. They had spent lives in the pursuit of knowledge of their God's Scriptures, even if they had accidentally missed getting to know God himself. God speaks to this many times throughout the Old and New Testaments.

In Hosea, as Jesus quotes a verse later, the LORD says, "I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." The whole point of the new covenant with Jesus was to fulfill and complete the spirit of the Law, which was not the rituals and traditions practiced by "good Jews", but was the search to know God himself.


Encouraging Fruit

Sure, we are expected to grow in the Lord and bear fruit, but the more we stress the expectation, the more we turn it into a new law to follow, a new law by which to judge each other. So, if judging is not our job, what is?

In Luke 13, Jesus tells the story of a fig tree that has not borne fruit for the three years since it was planted. If it does not bear fruit, the owner can find a better use for the ground it is taking up. So, he tells the vinedresser to cut it down and plant something new. He is the rightful judge.