Extravagant Generosity

Luke 19.1-10, 12-28; 2 Corinthians 9.5-15

Jericho is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It was a town known in biblical history for its scandals and bandits. In fact the road spanning from Jerusalem to Jericho is the location of the Good Samaritan story. It’s the perfect locator for this story of a disdained sinner. Enter into the story a businessman named Zach who served as a superintendent of tax collectors. His business was the using force, extortion, and fraud to gain riches. His business was to extort monies and blackmail his constituents. He served either the resident government or foreign bankers. He was assumed to be dishonest as well as unpatriotic, even to the point of not being connected to his genealogy as a Son of Abraham. Zach was building his fortunes on the backs of slaves and subservient employees.

Zach was short in stature; he didn’t have the power to overcome the crowd to see. He was continually trying to see! He was a “little one” who needed to find his way to Jesus. Luke implies that greed is not keeping Zach from seeing Jesus, but the crowds who are determined to deny him access to Jesus. Recall in our former text that the disciples were usurping Jesus’ authority, and now we see the muttering crowds doing the same. The crowd is quick to disqualify Zach from his Kingdom inheritance. Zach runs and climbs a tree, an act indignant to a rich businessman, yet palatable for a “little one” to be sure (Luke 19.4).

Jesus invited him to clean up his act (Luke 19.5), and Zach did just that as he paid back everyone he had swindled and stole monies. In fact the text reports that he gave half his possessions – his very existence – to the poor. And, Zach willing gave four times if he slandered anyone, or accused them falsely of dishonest gain from illegally exporting figs (Thayer) (Luke 19.8). Jesus applied intentional pressure for Zach to repent; He did not step away from the challenge to guide Zach’s into a new healthy business model for living. Jesus was all in on this reformation! The greatest since of disconnect in the story is that Zach is restored to his earthly community simultaneously with being welcomed into the Kingdom of God.

Luke feels that he needs to guide the fledgling Christian community in their assumptions of who belongs in the kingdom of God and who does not. Luke has more concern with rich folks than any of the other Gospels. Money can become troublesome for the heart; greed can turn us bitter and condemning. The whole community was up in arms about Jesus’ interest in this sinner, this one who was a thief and a liar. You might say the crowd thought, “Jesus drank the cool aid.” My word! It was considered wicked to associate with a sinner who had ungodly financial habits.

Zach repented and gave back four times what he had extorted! Giving his money away was the pathway for his salvation, his rescue. Jesus explains very clearly that he came to seek and save those who were ruined, destroyed and lost to God. Zach jumps into the true reality of who he was, and what God required of him. He quickly made restitution, and reordered his life in an instance. Because of Zach’s repentance, he becomes one of Luke’s heroes sang about in Sunday School. This is not a newspaper clipping that Luke footnotes in a term paper project for high school. This is a real story, someone’s testimony that was shared over and over until it made it into a collection of memorable stories.

Luke grasps the concept of household salvation and that sin permeates families, and when one repents the whole system is changed in the Kingdom of God. Jesus makes it very clear that Zach was not the addition to a great day of ministry. Zach’s repentance wasn’t the cherry on top of the shake! Zach was his main purpose of Jesus’ ministry in Jericho. Again, Jesus does the unexpected and invites the rich business man to consider giving away his possessions and giving to the poor. Jesus closes his conversation with the declaration of his mission statement: to seek, to inquire and to save (the Greek word is “sozo”).

It’s a change of mind! We might be able to surmise that Zach, the tax collector, spent most of his working looking down and counting money. But Jesus caused him to get up from his tax booth and climb a tree so that he could see beyond himself! Zach willing gives 50% of his possessions to charity and four times his dishonest gain. Christian’s are called to be unselfish and willing to create opportunities for change in the world around us. We are called to exceed all expectations and extend to unexpected measures necessary to make new disciples for the transformation of the world. Christians thrive when they share, sacrifice, and give joyously from a place of love for God and neighbor. Christians give not because God needs our money, but because God wants our hearts. If a scoundrel can give away the fortune he had amassed, may we not give generously to God’s work?

The first sacrifice is found in Genesis 3:20 when God created garments of skin for Adam and Eve. The Offerings of the Old Testament include: Burnt Sacrifice (atonement for general sin vs. child sacrifice), Freewill (grain, first fruits of live stock, devotional/providence), Peace (Thanksgiving, Freewill, Wave, a meal to share in fellowship), Guilt (debt/trespasses, not guilty conscience), and Sin (atonement for unintentional sin, not a moral failure). Samuel said it this way that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). Jeremiah informs us that trouble will follow disobedience (Jeremiah 44:23).

Sanctified Giving: Girls take off your heals and grab your tennis shoes! Guys grab your tree climbing spikes! Zach’s heart was ripe for change. History tells us that tax collectors were considered greedy swindlers. Even the disciples Matthew was a repentant tax collector. How’s your heart? Saving Account: I owe God for Salvation. Burnt Sacrifice for the Fallen Nature
Checkbook Bill Paying: Ensuring the Doors of the Church stay open for my own personal use. Guilty Offering for Trespasses/Debts

Sin Offering for Unintentional Moral Failure

Peace Offering for Fellowship

Retirement Investment: Ensuring that our children and grandchildren have a church home. Freewill Offering with a   First Fruits for Devotion
Earnest Money: Money paid to confirm a contract for property like a down payment for heaven. Tithe 10% Down Payment

Jesus does not command a 10% tithe but expects us to give from a generous heart for the sake of doing justice: 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:5-8, 9.6-7; Mark 12:41-44. Jesus seeks a cheerful and generous giver who gives liberally out of the condition of an overflowing heart toward God. Our giving is aimed toward love of God and neighbor. The 10% Tithe is found in a number of Old Testament texts: Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:21, Deuteronomy 12:6; 14:28 26:12; 2 Chronicles 31:5; Nehemiah 10:38; 12:44; 13:12; Malachi 3:10.

As a child I remember sitting in the pew and watching the offering being collected. The elder men of the church held baskets on the ends of rods that were lifted up over the heads of the people row after row. I can still recall the dusty old red velvet of the offering baskets. Each time the offering would come I would watch as my daddy leaned over and opened up his wallet to extract the meager monies found inside. Sunday after Sunday his habit of giving his last few dollars impressed me. Even as a young child I could remember the challenges of hard work without the financial reward earned form the labor of farming.

I remember one particular Sunday when we had struggled through a drought with little garden produce and a stack of bills from irrigating the crop. On this Sunday I watched my father struggle with his faith, he stared into his wallet where two well-worn dollar bills laid snuggled in the torn leather of his billfold. He sat and stared for a long time until the dusty old offering basket came over the heads of the people in front of us and extended to reach my father’s hand. In that moment he made the decision and out came the dollars, he closed up the billfold quickly and bowed his head in prayer.

We all have memories as the one I’ve just retold. Stories of giving that are inspiring for those involved in the story. But sometimes stories don’t hold much weight to those who hear them. They are brushed off as irrelevant, unentertaining. The story of Zacchaeus is a story we’ve heard many times, and we risk the habit of listening to the story as we have always heard it! You might say, “I’ve heard this story a million times!” I hope you hear it afresh today. This story of Zach captures expressions of a spark of faith, true repentance, Jesus style evangelism, giving radically, and reaping a harvest. Our key players in the story include a little chief tax collector, Jesus the Savior, and a crowd of disdaining people. Have you found yourself in the story? The invitation is ours to behold!


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