Saturday, October 2, 2010

Proper 26 Year C

Proper 26 C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Habakkuk 1:1-4;2:1-4; Psalm, 119:137-144;   OR Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 32:1-8; II Thessalonians 1:1-4,11-12; Luke 19:1-10

(See also Proper 22 C)
The text of Habakkuk describes an era when justice was "slack" and judgment "perverted."  But it also announces that the Lord will act boldly.

The psalmist feels overwhelmed-- "Puny as I am and despised...."  --but resorts to what he has come to trust: "Your decrees I have not forgotten... Your commands are my delight."


Isaiah conveys the Lord's disgust with ceaseless and elaborate liturgical fasts and feasts.  "Wash yourselves... seek justice...."  The Lord is willing to "Argue it out...."  It is possible for your "scarlet," "crimson" sins to become white as "snow," "wool."

The psalmist gives thanks and describes her experience of complete forgiveness.  "I said, 'I shall confess my sins to the Lord'/ And You forgave my offending crime."  And she wants to "teach" others from her experience.

In the tradition of Pauline letters, this "second" letter to the church in Thessaloniki  praises their growing faith and their increasing love, which is exemplary for other Christian communities.  The writer holds them in his prayers, "so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Luke's narrative highlights this unique encounter by placing it at the climax of his major section in which he has told the story of Jesus' teaching and healing as well as his converts and growing list of enemies but just before Luke tells the story of Jesus' final, fateful days in Jerusalem.   Luke sets the scene.  A man named Zacchaeus, "a tax collector and rich," was eager to see Jesus as he passed through Jericho.  Because he was short, he "ran ahead and climbed a ... tree...."  When Jesus got to the tree where where Zacchaeus was positioned, he looked up and called to him to come down and take him to your home, which Zacchaeus did "immediately."  The crowd murmured, "'He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.'"  The response of Zacchaeus is quick and specific: "half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor...."  And to those I have defrauded, I will repay "four times as much."  Jesus responds also immediately and to the point:  "Today salvation has come to  this house...."  Jesus assures he has come to the children of Abraham, "to seek and to save the lost."

Luke's little scene is chocked full of big, unexpected, even reckless surprises.   He provides just enough details about Zacchaeus to spark our imaginations-- a short, rich, tax collector (hence a double-dealing collaborator with the occupying Romans) and a blatant "sinner" in the eyes of decent folk.  Yet his curiosity causes him to shimmy up a tree to see Jesus when he passes through town.  Luke's manner of telling the story relates that everything happened very quickly.  Jesus spots Zacchaeus, tells him to "hurry"  down from  the tree and take him to his home.  So he "hurried and was happy to welcome him."  In no time, the despised, diminutive man announces that he is going to give half of his money to the poor and anyone he has cheated he will repay 400%!  Jesus' response is just as quick and  definitive, "Today salvation has come to this house!"

Generosity begets even more generosity, invitation can beget transformation.

An understanding of "gift" is central to many postmodern writers.  If one accepts it, it defines who we are and how we are to regard one another.  For many, the ultimate gift-giver is God, whose unexpected, undeserved, un-repayable, extravagant generosity saturates our whole perception of this life and can transform.  It is it's sheer limitlessness, surprise and even a kind of madness that knocks us of our feet every time and induces our own kind of madness.  Concentrating on the treatment of "the gift" especially in Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion, Robyn Horner writes, "there is every reason to conclude that the gift incites a kind of madness, that the gift only belongs to a kind of madness, that the gift 'is' madness."  She asks, "Yet who would rather stay sane than enter into this madness?"  Part of her answer continues, "it is possible to trace in the madness of the gift the figure of desire, of expectation, of anticipation, of faith."  Now her train of thought moves to all our future days,  "throwing oneself into the madness of the gift is throwing oneself into the groundlesness of what has not been realized, and what cannot be realized."  With Zacchaeus so vividly in our imaginations, her concluding thought hits directly, "Such is the movement of desire, which is not grasping, but in being grasped."  And then she adds,  "Such is the movement of madness to which I might surrender."  (Rethinking God as Gift, pp 199-200)