Going out on a Limb: A Christian Perspective

Going out on a Limb: A Christian Perspective
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About the Author

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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Have you ever been despised?  I have. It’s one of the most difficult experiences of life, isn’t it?

It’s particularly hard if you are despised because of who you are, what you look like, something you said which you didn’t mean, or was misinterpreted.  And it seems there is no way back.

I was despised early in my faith journey for being a woman responding to a call to ministry.  In your life, there are likely misunderstandings, broken relationships, times when you feel despised.

So you too may be able to identify with Zacchaeus. (Luke 19.1-10)

Zacchaeus goes out on a limb

What do we know about Zacchaeus?  He’s a short, rich, despised tax collector who wants to see Jesus when he’s in town.  So he climbs a sycamore tree, goes out on a limb. And Jesus stays with him while he’s in town, on his way to Jerusalem, despite the disapproval of the townsfolk, who describe him as a sinner.

Zacchaeus was framed!

So many scholars and preachers have seen this as a morality tale — a sinner who is transformed by an encounter with Jesus.  In this interpretation, Zacchaeus is this evil man who grows rich by embezzling the poor. Jesus encounters him and the result is that this crooked man changes his way and promises to pay back those he has cheated.

But Zacchaeus means clean, pure, the righteous one.

And his behaviour is consistent with his name.

Despite some mistranslations of the text, Zacchaeus speaks in the present, describing his regular practice.

“If I defraud anyone of anything, I pay back four times as much.”

— this was according to the Law:

  • He who steals an ox must pay back five oxen; if he steals a sheep he must repay four sheep: (Exodus 22:1)

and goes one step farther:

“Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor!”

Jesus goes out on a limb

So, even though the people lump him in with a bunch of sinners, Jesus comes to his defence.  He asks to pitch his tent with Zacchaeus, claims him as saved by God just as they are.  And identifies him, not as a sinner, but as one who is lost.  A Loser.

Jesus makes a habit of showing God’s concern for those human beings whom people tend to despise — God’s willingness to go out on a limb for losers.

  • The Lost Coin, Sheep, and Son (Prodigal), the dishonest manager, the dishonest judge, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the Pharisee and the Tax Collector — all stories of losers.

All these stories are strung together by Luke as Jesus is entering Jerusalem, where he will be “despised and rejected,” and left to die outside the gates of the city….

Luke has this story at the end of this long encounter between Jesus and losers as he makes his way to Jerusalem, to become the greatest loser of all.  Losing his life for all the losers of the world.

This story isn’t about the transformation of a sinner by an encounter with Jesus; it’s about the salvation of God, which is available to losers and offered through a loser named Jesus Christ.

It’s the final thrust in the story of the economy of God’s house.  Salvation is.  God offers to save losers like Zacchaeus, losers like us.

Like Zacchaeus who accepted Jesus’ into his home with joy, we too can welcome the joy that results when God acts in our lives to lift us up.

“Today salvation has come to this house”

This salvation is the restoration of this chief toll collector to his rightful place in Israel which had been destroyed by his profession which disrupted normal social relationships within his community.

Salvation is something available to us in the here and now, as well as in the future.

God goes out on a limb

But God’s saving action is so much more than human generosity can ever understand or encompass. Salvation is there for us not because of who or what we are but because of who and what God is.

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