Unexpected Grace

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home

October 30th, 2021 – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 19, 1-10

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When reading this Sunday’s gospel, I could not help but smile at the short fellow climbing a tree to get a better view of Jesus as he passed by his home. Being a tax collector, he was not the most popular fellow in town. But he set that all aside, because he wanted to see Jesus. Imagine his surprise when Jesus stopped and asked “Shortie” if he might have dinner later at his house. Imagine also the look on the faces of his neighbors.

Like many gospel accounts, it shows Jesus reacting in surprising ways. Instead of ignoring the fellow who might have been the least popular citizen in Jericho (after all, he worked for the despised Romans) Jesus wanted to break bread with him as his home. At the very least, this move of Jesus would cause many to question their impression (and hope) that Jesus was someone sent from God.

I especially noticed the words that conclude today’s gospel: that Jesus came “to seek and to save what was lost.” What exactly did Luke want us to think about with those words?

Perhaps that we might better misunderstand the purpose of the work and words of Jesus. We may have the false impression that Jesus came simply to reward the good and punish those thought to be the opposite. Using the details of the narrative, we might assume that Jesus favored those cheering on the side of the road, but dismissed those in the background – for instance, a tax collector straining to catch a glimpse of him while hanging from a tree branch.

I recall a phrase I once heard intended to summarize the message of Jesus: He came to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. There are other versions of this saying, but they all mean the same thing. The message of Jesus was different, unexpected, and in some ways, uncomfortable to some. To repeat, “to seek and save what was lost.” Or at least, thought to be lost, or at odds with God’s love for all.

To add another matter worth thinking about, I also recall hearing from a wise pastor that we might be surprised who we meet in heaven. We are all tempted at times to play God, to assume we know the mind and heart of God when judging others. We all tend to favor and approve of people who think and act like we do. But is that how God does things? How God judges us? No one was more surprised to be singled out to break bread with Jesus than the vertically challenged tax collector in Jericho. A timely question in today’s very judgmental world?

©David M. Thomas, PhD     

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