More thoughts on feasting and consequences...

Perhaps because I've been reading the new biography of Bonhoeffer - or maybe I am having a reaction to an older paradigm of discipleship that I find oppressive and shame-based - but my thoughts keep returning to the metaphor of doing church as Christ's feast. As I've noted before, I am still connecting some of the dots - and I'm sure there are lots of gaps and question marks to be explored by souls wiser than myself - so today's reflection is part of a work in progress, ok? It has to do with one of the many stories of Jesus and a feast...

Luke 19 tells the story of a tax collector, Zacchaeus, who experiences a transformation during his feasting with Jesus. (Luke 19: 1-10) A few background thoughts are helpful:

+ First there is the whole notion of clean/unclean. Zacchaeus was a publican - a chief tax collector for Rome - and hence a collaborator with the occupation troops of Rome. Balsam was produced in Jericho from the resin of the Commiphora tree which was then used to make both perfumes and medicinal balms (think "balm in Gilead.") A great deal of commerce took place on the Jericho Road and it fell to Zacchaeus and his employees to collect the required tolls, duties and related fees. Malina and Rohrbaugh note in A Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels that some publicans became very wealthy - often through abuse and embezzlement - but this is not true for all tax collectors. In fact, employees of chief publicans were often among the working poor. So, while the context is clear in Luke's story that Zacchaeus was likely considered ritually unclean because of his chosen work as a collaborator, it is also clear that he is unclean for having climbed into the sycamore tree.

The sycamore tree was a type of fig tree whose fruit was "considered inferior to a true fig." More often than not it was food only for the poor or pigs. So, any way you cut it, this little rich man was not fit company for those who were called into a holy and devout life.

+ Second is the feast itself: we have NO description of what took place. Is Jesus a guest of the publican before his impassioned confession or afterwards? Does the crowd grumble when Jesus enters the house of the unclean collaborator - or does this happen immediately? All we know for certain is that when Jesus saw Zacchaeus he asked to rest in his home and the sinner was filled with joy to share hospitality.

Some commentators say that because the verb tense is in the present it must mean that Zacchaeus is already acting in a compassionate and just way: upon hearing the complaints of the crowd, the tax collector reminds the mob - and Jesus - that he is already giving away half of possessions to the poor and paying back those he has defrauded four times the damage. Why, then, does the crowd grumble and mistrust the hospitality of the little sinner? My hunch is that it was only after the feast that bold restitution is made by Zacchaeus.

This is, after all, a story about contrasts: in Luke 18 another rich man approaches Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life (Luke 18: 18-27) while here Jesus seeks out the searching one. In Luke 18 the rich man leaves unhappy whereas Zacchaeus experiences joy both at the start of the invitation as well as after the feast. And, Zacchaeus concludes that generosity and justice are necessary after his encounter with Jesus while the rich man walks empty away in grief. To my way of thinking, Zacchaeus "gets it" after feasting and sharing hospitality with the Word made Flesh.

+ And third let's not forget the nature of the mob's grumbling: earlier in Luke we read that the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling and complaining that Jesus ate with tax collectors, whores and sinners. In fact, the story starts with Jesus going into the house of a tax collector whose main guest list included the bottom of the social barrel (Luke 5: 1-30.) And after the meal he tells the religious scholars: go learn what it means for the Lord to desire compassion rather than religious rules.

This, it would seem, is salvation - sozo - to be made whole. In this story, the feast is the setting in which the wounded and wounding Zacchaeus encounters something of God's grace. The result being that he realizes that he must give back as good as he has received. He has been made whole and must now do his part to restore others. To which Jesus says: "Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is, Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost." That is, here is a child of the covenant living into his deepest commitments and bringing right relations to other sisters and brothers of the covenant.

The feast of Zacchaeus is, then, a healing story: for one man but also the whole community. And the healing is, perhaps, what so grabs me about the feast as a different way of doing church and nourishing disciples. It allows for time - something of great importance in our over scheduled era - time to savor, think and respond. It begins with hospitality, respect and nourishment - and the style has to do with sharing - so any response is left to each person's experience of God's grace, yes?

I'm writing this as I listen to Herbie Hancock's "Imagine Project" - especially his collaboration with John Legend and Pink on Peter Gabriel's tune: "Don't Give Up." It is a feast for the ears, soul and heart and... points to the healing of God's grace. Dig it.

1) Sotchi Watanabe @
2) Geoffrey Todd @ ibid
3) Emmanuel Garibay @ ibid
4) Lindena Robb @ ibid


Philomena Ewing said…
Fabulous, just fabulous !
Amazing posts and your blog just keeps on getting better and better.
I have just finished posting some songs for the weekend on my blog for friends and myself . The week has been a hard one for them and so my choice reflected this. However, now that I have heard this song I wish I had put it in too. I will save it for another time !!
RJ said…
Well how lovely is that? Thanks so much... I just checked out your tunes and LOVE them. Thanks so much.

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