This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on October 30th, 2016.
One of the most well-known stories of the New Testament, with accompanying soundtrack and all, is that of the rich tax collector, Zacchaeus. This makes the preacher’s task of finding something “new” much more difficult than at other times. Flipping or swiping back a few pages might offer some inspiration.
In chapter 18, immediately preceding the Gospel reading for this week, the reader will find two stories that further illustrate what Luke is offering the audience. The reference to a rich (young) ruler, who obeys all the commandments but can’t part with his wealth, presumably failing the first and greatest commandment. Compare this to the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector and the prayers they offer before God. Both are presumed to be wealthy, but only one is rich in spirit.
Swipe back a couple more pages to chapter 16, where we read of a rich man and his shrewd manager, followed by the important interpretive lens, “You cannot serve both God and money (mammon).” This transitions into another story some may have preached a few weeks earlier—that of the rich man and Lazarus on his front stoop.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on March 6, 2016.
The narrative of the prodigal son is certainly one of the most well-known parables in the gospels. We may be tempted to begin the reading in verse eleven, but there is good reason to commence with verse one. The passage opens by stating that tax collectors and sinners were coming to listen to Jesus. According to the Pharisees and scribes, he welcomed them and even shared meals with them. Collecting taxes and tariffs was considered dishonorable work, and those employed in this profession were known to take more than the mandated fees.
The sinners described in the passage were probably apostate Jews who were regularly breaking religious laws. We do not learn the specific nature of their sins, but those tasked with religious leadership were evidently appalled by Jesus’ willingness to mix with this class of people. They grumbled about Jesus’ actions, something that they had done before (Luke 5:29-30). Pharisees and scribes worked diligently to maintain their religious and cultural status. In contrast, Jesus had a history of upending the religious system by associating with outcasts and inviting them to repent (Luke 5:31-32). Jesus’ compassion continues to raise questions today about the identities of religious outcasts and the hospitality they ought to receive.