Monday, 1 November 2010

Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)

People hated Zacchaeus for good reason. A tax collector had the force of Roman power behind him to confiscate and enslave tax debtors. He was a sinner whose depth of sin is matched by the hatred evoked among the people of Jericho. No wonder the people of Jericho grumbled at the grace displayed by Jesus toward Zacchaeus. When Jesus includes Zacchaeus in the people of God once more ("child of Abraham") he is doing more than forgiving a notorious sinner. He is also challenging the way in which human communities structure themselves around the hatred of sinners. This is also more than challenging self-righteousness, just as it is more than a call for us to love rather than hate. Jesus' inclusion of Zacchaeus is all of these things but it is also a challenge to the way in which human communities need to hate someone. And when you need a scapegoat there is no better candidate than a sinner. Choose the innocent as the scapegoat and the scapegoating might become apparent, even to ourselves. Better to choose a sinner, and use the sin as the (often large admittedly) fig leaf to hide our dumping on the scapegoat any latent anger we hold. Jesus is challenging Jericho to structure itself around inclusion certainly, and if that wasn't enough, just by the act of inclusion he is challenging the scapegoating endemic to human communities. If you doubt the process of scapegoating is at work in our communities just look at the way the newspaper or a politician can whip up hatred for a "sinner(s)". It isn't difficult to name it as manipulation, but there is something there to manipulate though. That kind of crass manipulation is reasonably easy to recognize; not so easy to recognize when we do it ourselves in a situation not pumped up by the media or unscrupulous politician.

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