Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Habakkuk 1: 1 – 4, 2: 1 – 4
1The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
The Prophet’s Complaint
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’
and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4 So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgement comes forth perverted.
God’s Reply to the Prophet’s Complaint
2I will stand at my watch-post,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he* will answer concerning my complaint.
2 Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
4 Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.*
2 Thessalonians 1: 1 – 4, 11 – 12
1Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our* Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters,* as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.
11To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfil by his power every good resolve and work of faith, 12so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Luke 19:1 – 10
Jesus and Zacchaeus
19He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ 9Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’
Jericho is the world’s oldest walled town. It was one of the first cities to fall to the conquering Israelites many centuries before the time of Jesus.
Jericho lies slightly north east of Jerusalem in the Jordan Valley and it features prominently in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in the healing of blind Bartimaeus and in the conversion of a wealthy chief tax-collector called Zacchaeus.
Conversion always touches the heart because it involves someone giving up the false pride they have been clinging to and opening themselves to Jesus’ love. When people experience God’s love they are always moved emotionally.
Which reminds me of a cartoon I saw the other day. Jesus and his main bros, Peter, James and John are walking along when James says, “The wedding at Cana was quite an emotional experience, wasn’t it?” John, with a twinkle in his eye, says. “Yeah, even the cake was in tiers.”
On the 10th July I introduced you to a Jewish priest. We didn’t give him a name but he was the priest who ignored the wounded man on the road to Jericho. We named the wounded man Samuel. Samuel was the priest’s friendly neighbour and the man rescued by the Good Samaritan.
We’re going to give the priest a name this time: let’s call him Isaac. He likes his name because Isaac was the son of Abraham. Isaac was married to Miriam. She provided a delightful counterpoint to his self-importance.
Isaac the priest had just returned from yet another round of temple duty in Jerusalem. He was always tired after intense ministry followed by the long and dusty trek home to Jericho.
Isaac was sitting with his feet in a refreshing bowl of water and with a mouthful of figs when in burst his enthusiastic neighbour Samuel.
“Isaac!” Samuel yelled. “Come quickly. The prophet from Nazareth is coming down the road.”
“What prophet from Nazareth?” he asked. “Not much good comes out of Nazareth.”
“The one who gave Bartimaeus his eye-sight back!” said Samuel excitedly.
At that Isaac dropped everything, fastened his sandals, and ran after Samuel. Bartimaeus was his nephew and he spoke endlessly about Jesus, the prophet who had healed him.
The crowd was pushing this way and that and Isaac and Samuel could make little progress. They found themselves shoved up against a sycomore tree, and standing on tip-toe in order to see the prophet.
It was then that Isaac caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. He looked up into the tree and to his horror, sitting on a branch above him, was the scum of the earth: Zacchaeus the tax-collector.
“Samuel!” he yelled above the noise of the crowd, “We need to escape!” Samuel looked puzzled because the press of the crowd was now so tight he could hardly breathe, let alone escape. They were stuck right where they were.
Then a hush fell on the multitude. For the first time Isaac noticed the prophet – and he had stopped right opposite them. In fact he could see the sweat on the brows of his minders as they pushed against the people to keep them at bay.
Jesus looked up into the tree and said to the tax-collector, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’
Isaac’s stomach heaved. He struggled for all he was worth to get away from the sinner Zacchaeus. Fortunately Zacchaeus jumped down from further along the branch and missed him altogether.
There was some grumbling from the crowd which quietened again as he heard the rasping voice of the tax-collector say, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’
Then the voice of Jesus: ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’
“I am a son of Abraham, and I am not lost!” Isaac found himself yelling. He was terrified. A gap in the crowd opened up and there before him (beside that odious runt Zacchaeus) stood the prophet. Jesus’ eyes were all compassion but behind them lay an authority that had him quaking in his sandals.
Isaac felt dizzy as it dawned on him that this may well be the Son of Man before him, the man who had healed Bartimaeus.
Jesus’ words came to him like balm. “Yes you are a son of Abraham, Isaac, but there is little laughter in your life.” Isaac began to sink to the ground. He could feel the salty tears coursing down his cheeks, as Jesus said, “Come to me and I will free you from your sin.”
He found his arms reaching out. He felt the strong embrace and smelt the nutty odour of Jesus’ robe. And then the words, “Come to me, for you are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul…”
It was the first day of the rest of his life. It didn’t matter that he was walking home arm in arm with his sentimental neighbour Samuel. It didn’t matter that Jesus, right at this moment, was sharing a meal with Zacchaeus.
It mattered that he had embraced the Son of Man, Jesus the prophet from Nazareth. That was all that mattered and it would be all that ever mattered.
And that, dear parishioners, is the only thing that will ever matter for you and for me too – embracing the Son of Man.