We’re almost there…almost to Jerusalem. Jesus has been talking about it for some time and for these last several weeks in worship we’ve been on the road with him as he makes his way to that (almost) final destination. We’ve heard a variety of parables—the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son and just last week we heard about the Rich Man and Lazarus. We’ve skipped over 3 more parables in this chapter 18 and caught up with Jesus just as he tells his disciples—for the 3rd time—about what to expect when they arrive at the city of Jerusalem.
The first time Jesus told them: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” The next time Jesus says it a little differently: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” And finally in today’s reading a little different still: “the son of man will be handed over to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.”
With each telling Jesus becomes more specific about details and more inclusive as to those who will play a role in his demise—which turns out to be everyone.
But the disciples don’t understand. What Jesus describes about the future doesn’t compute. They’ve witnessed healings, been wowed by miracles and inspired by his teachings. Peter’s been the boldest of them all making his confession out loud: “You are the messiah of God”.
And yet, the story tells us the disciples don’t understand. How can he be the messiah and at the same time talk about impending suffering and death? They don’t see the connection between who Jesus is and what he promises will happen. (DIAL)
Which underscores the irony of what happens next in the story. With disciples still scratching their heads, Jesus hits the road again, making his way toward Jerusalem.
Oh sorry…just a minute…
Sorry about that…I thought I had turned my phone off. Rude right? Annoying right? Any of you wondering…how could I make that mistake? Why would I waste your time? Any other reactions to what just happened…that is okay to say out loud…in church?
Interruptions! They happen all the time: our sleep gets interrupted by a phone call that’s made after we’ve gone to bed; work is interrupted when a new assignment lands on our desk; vacation gets interrupted with foul weather or failed logistics of every kind. Most of the time, interruptions are just minor annoyances that temporarily distract us from what we’re trying to do. But they can also be life-changing—putting us on a path we didn’t expect resulting in a new reality we never imagined: a lost job; a dissolved marriage; a scary diagnosis.
In the book Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen acknowledges the frustration and anger that accompany interruptions. But, he says, what if we lived with a different perspective about these interruptions? What if we looked at interruptions not with frustration or anger but with a kind of curiosity instead? So that we didn’t view interruptions as things that keep us from our plans but as unexpected opportunities to participate in God’s plan. How might that change the experience? How might that change us?
Jesus gives us a glimpse of living with that kind of perspective in our story today. Remember, Jesus has just told the disciples for the 3rd time about what will happen in Jerusalem but they still don’t get it. They keep following him but they don’t see the connection between who Jesus is and what he promises will happen.
Jesus doesn’t take time to explain. He doesn’t have time to explain. It’s back on the road again—to Jerusalem. He’s got a plan and then, along the way, he’s interrupted by 2 men—neither of whom can see Jesus but they’re looking for him just the same.
The first encounter comes from a blind beggar who cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Twice, the blind man makes this plea. The crowd tells him to be quiet. They’re annoyed by his interruption; they’re frustrated by this disabled man who can’t keep up with them. But not Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. “Lord, let me see again.” “Receive your sight,” Jesus says and it is so. The man is healed. It’s miracle. For Jesus, the interruption is an opportunity to participate in God’s plan.
Back on the road to Jerusalem and there’s another encounter. Again, this man can’t see Jesus but is looking for him just the same. Zacchaeus is short in stature—which in the original context could mean he’s physically short but just as likely, according to some theologians, is a reference to his moral standing in the community (specifically referenced by David Lose, Workingpreacher.org commentary on Luke 19:1-10, 2010). Zacchaeus was a rich tax collector after all, which meant he worked for the Roman system. He was a wealthy Jew who made his living collecting taxes from his own people, taxes that lined the already packed pockets of their oppressors. His community was beyond annoyed with him. They were angry and had no time for him. He was outside the circle of love; certainly not worthy to be considered neighbor or friend.
But not Jesus. “Zacchaeus,” Jesus says, “hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ Jesus sees the interruption as an opportunity to participate in God’s plan. Zacchaeus was recognized by Jesus. Valued. Made to feel accepted and worthy of love.
It’s another story about healing which IS part of God’s plan. Another miracle. Another glimpse of what it looks like when God’s kingdom comes. Zacchaeus had been judged by others. He’s ostracized because of the work he did. People made assumptions and grumbled at the injustice of Jesus choosing to honor Zacchaeus with a visit to his home. But the community has it all wrong. Their judgment of Zacchaeus kept them from seeing the value of Zacchaeus as a human being.
Zacchaeus climbed down from his perch in the sycamore tree and said: ‘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.’ Zacchaeus has encountered Jesus and repents. His life is changed. That’s usually how the story is told.
BUT that may not be an accurate translation. Many scholars suggest that it’s more accurate to translate Zacchaeus’ comment to Jesus in the present tense. Which is to say…Zacchaeus isn’t declaring a new plan for his life; Zacchaeus is already doing these things. He’s already giving away half of his possessions; already giving to the poor and is ready to give back 4x for any error in calculation that he’s made.
Now what Jesus says makes sense. Jesus says: ‘Today salvation has come to this house because he too is a son of Abraham.” Zacchaeus uses wealth to participate in God’s plan. He’s doing Kingdom work even though his neighbors don’t see it. Jesus reaches out to include Zacchaeus, share a meal with him –actions to inspire the community to change and see the value of Zacchaeus too.
If you think about it almost every story about Jesus is an interruption story. Jesus called fishermen from their nets, spoke to a woman at the well, coordinated an impromptu picnic for 5000 in which everyone was fed. Jesus was all about interrupting the status quo. He interrupted long-standing religious practices, the political system, and social norms. He interrupted those who tried to silence him by executing him, and he interrupted the power of evil by overcoming death and rising again from the dead.
These stories from Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem remind us that interruptions aren’t all bad. They might annoy you, anger or terrify you but God has made a promise to you: salvation comes to you TODAY. So may the next interruption inspire you to live with Jesus’ perspective: to pause, pay attention and to look for where God is at work in your midst. And then, God-willing, may you see an opportunity to participate in God’s plan.