Stephen’s death was a bit of a sucker punch to the early church. Not only did they have to cope with the loss of one of their most devout members, but also Jerusalem turned hostile to the faith. The majority of the new Christians had to disperse to other regions, and Saul spearheaded the persecution efforts, imprisoning many of those who stuck around. But you don’t get diamonds without pressure, you don’t get pearls without irritants, and it takes a lot of (ahem) fertilizer to make a rose.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
And a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree and he said,
Zacchaeus, you come down,
For I’m going to your house today!
For I’m going to your house today!
So goes the Sunday school song. But if the song were all you knew of Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus, you’d be missing all but the barest bones of the story.
Like the chapter before it, Luke 18 has a lot of stuff happening. There are parables about unjust judges and self-assured Pharisees, there are children and rich men coming to Jesus, there are teachings about sacrifice and predictions of crucifixion, and there’s a blind man who gets his sight back. A single post would only afford me space for a cursory glance at each portion of the text if I attempted to cover it all, so we’re going to zero in on our friend the rich young ruler.
Today’s verse from God’s Little Instruction Book is a single simple imperative sentence from Hebrews. As he’s wrapping up his letter, the author writes, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5). If we zoom out and survey the rest of Hebrews 13 for context, we won’t find any additional insights into the struggle between greed and contentment. The verse in question is situated among commands to stay faithful to your spouse and to be kind to strangers and prisoners, and the meat of chapter 13 is encouragement for the Jewish Christians who’ve earned the disdain of their fellow Jews for following a crucified Messiah. Verse five is the only verse about not making your bank account your best bud! So, what we’re going to do instead is zoom out even further and consider the contrast between greed and contentment in the New Testament epistles.
At this very moment, I’m looking at the physical page, and dang if that thing isn’t 99% red. Literally the only words in this chapter that aren’t the Words of Our Lord are a “then-Jesus-said” to open the chapter and, later, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him” (14). (Of course it’s a dunk on the Pharisees.) Everything else? Jesus’ teaching.
Some people miss the forest for the trees. In yesterday’s post, focusing on a single verse about one of the few all-nighters Jesus pulled in all his roughly twelve thousand nights spent on earth, I neglected to cover any of the rest of Luke 6. Thus, in an effort to obtain a broader view of the chapter, today we will be considering a single, different tree.
I’m wary of drawing analogies between our present-day situations and those in the Bible. Sometimes the Bible isn’t about you. Moses’ story doesn’t exist solely so you can draw parallels between the Exodus and your putting in your two weeks’ notice at your old job. God made Moses a unique individual and called him to a specific historical purpose; he had a particular relationship with God, and he isn’t just a vehicle for our modern-world metaphors. That said, man: if Hosea 13 doesn’t seem to me like it could be about 21st-century America.