BIBLE READING: Luke 19:1-10
I want to introduce to you three people we meet in Luke. They are the rich young ruler (18:18-30, a blind beggar so poor he is never even named (18:35-43), and Zacchaeus, a tax collector. (19:1-10). Each of these three have a problem, and each inform the others’ stories. We miss something if we take each story alone.
It begins with the ruler. He is seriously seeking to "inherit the kingdom." When he realises the cost, in verse 23, he is sad. This is not someone seeking to justify themselves, this is someone who truly wants to see.
Jesus makes very clear that the key problem for him, is his money. “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Essentially it is not possible without the intervention of God.
In emphasising the cost, and taking cost beyond riches, Jesus then tells his disciples the ultimate cost of everything being "accomplished." Riches are the problem for this young man, but in the end, following Jesus will be costing not less than everything.
The story moves on. Another man who literally cannot see, is sitting by the road. NRSV translates the Greek hodon as road. It is often translated as the Way. The blind beggar is sitting by the Way, unable to make progress because he cannot see. He is not rich or powerful. In fact, he lives at the opposite end of the social spectrum. But he persists in calling out to Jesus, despite the people calling him to be quiet, and Jesus responds
Is it significant that the rich man wanted to inherit eternal life? Was his inheritance one more thing he was going to "own?" By contrast, the beggar asked only that he might see, and this was given to him. This seeing, his being saved had nothing to do with riches. He did nothing but desire to see. It was given to him.
As soon as he was able to see, he "followed him."
And so we come to Zacchaeus. Like the ruler Zacchaeus is rich and powerful, but he is not righteous in his keeping of the law (I have kept all these since my youth.) He is a sinner, exploiting his people cruelly. Yet even he was trying to see who Jesus was...
This is a symbol, a careful choice of words. He was not simply short. It does not say he could not see Jesus. He could not see who Jesus was.
Both Zacchaeus and the blind beggar knew they did not know, and could not see. The rich man came to Jesus not knowing he did not know. "Good Teacher," he said, assuming he knew who, and what, Jesus was. Riches blind us. Even the blind man, who cried out "Jesus, Son of David," had seen more of Jesus than the rich an man.
Something in Zacchaeus’ desire to see Jesus meant he was not bound by his riches. He was able to give them up. He did what the rich man was asked to do and could not. Somehow, he saw.
In Luke's telling of story, Jesus does not need to lecture Zacchaeus about what he must do. He comes down from the tree, happy to welcome Jesus. He says, as a result of Jesus accepting him, that he will give half his possessions to the poor, and pay back four times over what he had defrauded. Like the blind beggar, he has seen, and responded.
This series of stories might be called the Mystery of Grace. The one who had power, and who kept the law, and appeared to be of God, could not see. Those who were beggars, obvious sinners in the eyes of the people, saw.
Who knows how God works? There only are two things to do. One is to keep trying to see. The other is to pray that we are like Zacchaeus and the beggar, able to respond.