All Saints Sunday, November 3, 2019
Text: Luke 19:1-10
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Befriending Radical Disagreement … that was the title of a recent episode of “On Being” with Krista Tippet. “On Being” is a radio show and podcast that explores faith and spirituality.
The episode “Befriending Radical Disagreement” that aired about a month ago originally aired in May 2018. It featured two men who had befriended each other in college. One of the men was Matthew Stevenson – an Orthodox Jew. The other, was Derek Black, son of a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and a popular figure in the white nationalist movement.
At college, Derek Black’s ideology was outed. People discovered he was an active white nationalist to much uproar on campus. In response, Matthew Stevenson, invited Derek Black to attend Shabbat dinner in his dorm room. Matthew Stevenson knew Derek had grown up in a white nationalist family, and probably didn’t know people from the very backgrounds he despised.
Stevenson was clear with his Shabbat gathering, that the invitation extended was not to “ambush Derek.” The goal, was to simply share the Shabbat Dinner – man to man, person to person – human to human. Stevenson said:
“This was NOT some opportunity to yell at him for the wrongness of his beliefs. I knew that shouting at him … or having anybody else at the table do so, would just immediately put him on the defensive, and he’d never come back. So I was very explicit that people were not to discuss his background at the table, or white nationalism, more generally.”
Derek Black came to the first Shabbat Dinner. He came again the following week, and again the week after that. For two years he attended the weekly Shabbat gathering. Derek Black had been defending his beliefs in media interviews since he was 12 years old, and was ready to defend his beliefs with a tightly organized defense using statistics and quotes. But a frontal attack on his beliefs never came. Instead, Black admitted:
“I was less worried about being grilled than what actually happened, where I wasn’t grilled and had to spend, ultimately, years of really enjoyable time among people who — the fact that I was friends with them was contradictory to my worldview. And that was a lot more uncomfortable than had I been grilled.”
In weekly meal fellowship of the Shabbat dinner, every Friday for two years, Matthew Stevenson extended the hand of friendship to Derek Black. Stevenson said:
“It’s easy to gloss over the fact that between the time Derek was first invited to one of these Shabbat dinners and the time that … I had any real awareness that his views on white nationalism had changed, was about two years apart. That’s two years of every week, coming over, spending hours; receiving, frankly, a lot of criticism by other people on the campus … for what I was doing, including friends who had been coming to these dinners previously and stopped coming because they didn’t want to be around Derek.”
Committing to eating together as humans, change occurred.
Does this story sound familiar?
The story of Derek Black and Matthew Stevenson, is the story told in our Gospel Reading today! The story of Jesus, Son of God, eating with Zacchaeus, chief tax collector. And like those who criticized Matthew Stevenson (Why is he eating with that white nationalist?) there were those who criticized Jesus (Why is he eating with that scammer, that cheater, that thief, that tax collector?).
It’s important to remember that tax collectors in Jesus’ day worked for the Roman Government. They were seen as traitors to the people and were known to either skim off the taxes for themselves or add personal commission on top of what they collected. That Zacchaeus was “chief” tax collector meant he was all into this offensive system.
Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeu’s house – and scripture says Zacchaeus was “happy to welcome him.” Why was Zacchaeus happy? Reading the story backwards, from end to beginning, we might assume that Zacchaeus was ready for transformation … that he was eager for the great healer and preacher to come to his home to help him start a new life.
As Professor Mark Bangert writes: “had he reached a stage in life when to continue his apparent extortion practices just had no more satisfying rewards?”
But, what if he was just curious like everyone else? What if he went to see Jesus because all of Jericho was going to see Jesus? And what if he was happy to receive Jesus because it stoked his ego: of course, a popular celebrity should choose a house of great importance like his to visit!
In some ways, it’s more incredible and powerful to believe this, that Zacchaeus was simply curious about what all the fuss was about, and that he had no intention of conversion, but in the presence of Christ was changed nonetheless.
Theologian Dennis Hamm suggests an important translation issue. He suggests that the English translation that Zacchaeus, “welcomed” Jesus doesn’t quite do justice to the original Greek.
The Greek word translated “welcomed” actually carries the larger concept of hospitality – including a meal. Zacchaeus didn’t just welcome Jesus over for a quick cup of coffee on the porch, instead he invited Jesus into his house, into his home, into the dining room to eat with him. And it was there … there in friendship over food, there in meal fellowship, conversion happened! In meal fellowship and friendship with Jesus:
- Zacchaeus renounced half his possessions – pledging to give to the poor half of all he owned.
- Zacchaeus renounced his defrauding and scamming ways – pledging to repay fourfold all hose he had wronged.
Scripture makes no mention of Jesus doing this in response to a scolding by Jesus. Jesus didn’t invite himself over for an intervention – it wasn’t “ambush Zacchaeus day!” Rather, in meal fellowship and friendship with Christ, Zacchaeus’s heart was changed. “Today salvation comes to this house,” said Jesus.
Friends in Christ …
I find hope in a Zacchaeus who wasn’t looking for conversation, but was converted nonetheless …
I find hope that it was two years of meal fellowship for Derek Black before any change was noticed …
because I wonder if that is more like our experience of how we are changed in this meal of friendship we celebrate with Christ every week?
Here in bread and cup Jesus invites himself into our hearts, our lives, our homes every Sunday. And I think it is the conversation of the slow-motion miracle of God, holding us in the unconditional grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, meal after meal, Sunday after Sunday, season after season, in which we are changed, even if we don’t even recognize the change within us.
The conversion we experience in faith, is the conversation and healing found in being fed a steady diet of grace, mercy, and forgiveness from the presence of Jesus Christ himself.
Jesus doesn’t argue with us in this meal. There is no criticism, condemnation, or shame in this meal. Jesus doesn’t even give us anything to do in this meal.
Instead, in friendship and fellowship Jesus speaks simple words of promise: Body of Christ given … FOR YOU; Blood of Christ shed … FOR YOU. Here in meal fellowship and friendship with Christ, we are given all that Christ is as Alpha and Omega, creator, redeemer, and sanctifier of the world. No strings attached … free gift of grace … take it – take it freely!
And, on this day in which we lift before God our loved ones who have died this past year, we are bold to remember that this meal fellowship with Christ, this marriage feast that has no end, is unbroken by death. Even now in death, Christ feeds our loved ones as steady diet of forgiveness, grace, rebirth, resurrection, and eternal life!
Sin and death itself cannot stop Christ, from coming to us with friendship and grace, and feeding us with his very presence.
But friends, be ready like Zacchaeus, to be changed by the friendship of Christ in this meal!
Experiencing the friendship of Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit, what might you be called to renounce today in response to the friendship of Christ? White nationalism like Derek Black? Economic exploitation and greed like Zacchaeus? Some other demonic, evil, sinister force in your life that opposes the will of God?
Converted in the friendship of Christ … who have you avoided that you are called to eat with today? Who have you judged, criticized, and shamed, or who has judged, criticized, and shamed you, that you are called into meal fellowship and friendship? Not to argue with or persuade …not to convince or convert, but simply, to share a meal with, and in so doing, like Zacchaeus, experience the salvation of God coming to you and to your house?
Conversion found in meal fellowship and friendship with Christ and with one another. Bread and cup set before us. Come and eat.
Indeed may it be so.