The Rotter and the Religious – a sermon for BCP – Luke 19:1-10, Isaiah 1:10-18

Luke 19:1-10 and Isaiah 1:10-18,

Two rich men:

One religious,

One a rotter,

but which one, when encountering Jesus, goes away sad?

The religious or the rotter?

Well, its the religious one.  Because, I think we all know the story of the rich young ruler which appears (just before the passage I have just read) in Luke 18:18-29.

He was a delightful person spent his life following the commandments since childhood: a good person, the sort of person one might like to introduce to our daughters one might think….

Whereas the rotter, Zaccheus, is a hated tax collector who has made money out of cheating people and collaborating with the Romans.

And yet, Jesus says to the rotter ‘Today salvation has come to this house’.

Whereas the result of the encounter that Jesus has with the rich young ruler is (in the story as told in Matthew and Mark) that he walks sadly away….

The question that the rich young ruler asks Jesus is ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

This doesn’t appear to be an intellectual question but the reaction of the man when told to give his money to the poor is not enthusiastic.  It’s the sort of reaction you might see from a top pupil,  who expects to get a high grade in the examination, but suddenly discovers that the test is wholly different from what he thought it was.  He is ‘sad’, which tends to suggest that he was pretty sure he was on the right track in the first place all along – just obeying the commandments and that the question was an intellectual one:  ‘look at me how good I have been’ ‘is there anything else I can do to add to how wonderful I am’?, one might see his question as being…..

Jesus puts his finger on exactly the problem of his heart…he has done everything right, but his heart is still not for God.  He is sad when asked by the creator of the universe to give his money away to the poor.

Yet Zaccheus, the rotter, called by Jesus to hurry down from the sycamore tree offers to give half of his money to the poor, without even being asked.  He hurries both to get to the tree in the first place, desperate to see ‘who Jesus is’ verse 3 and then hurries down from the tree to welcome Jesus into his house.  He is enthusiastic, passionate, extravagant to the poor, giving away half his possessions and in restoring justice by paying four fold for anything he has cheated, which was way beyond what the law required, all in response to Jesus’ recognition of him.

We see something happening similar in the passage from Isaiah as well, as the prophet berates the nominally religious people, the intellectually religious people, of his day, those who had been going through the motions of sacrificing animals for their sins, as required by the law, ticking the boxes, but not really getting to grips with God.

God says, through Isaiah, verse 11 ‘The multitude of your sacrifices.  What are they to me..I have more than enough of burned offerings…stop bringing meaningless offerings…verse 13 I cannot bear your worthless assemblies…verse 15 when you spread your hands out in prayer I hide my eyes from you….

Verse 16…wash and make yourselves clean take your evil deeds out of my sight!

Isaiah shows that true godliness is no mere intellectual ticking of boxes.  He says: ‘stop doing wrong learn to do right,  seek justice, defend the oppressed take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the cause of the widow..’


and this is an important ‘but’ for all of us, including me. who may be feeling that this passage is about us….

‘But’ Isaiah continues, if the people of Israel will finally act in true obedience (verse 18) though your sins are like scarlet; they shall be white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they shall be like wool, if you are willing and obedient you will eat the good things of the land….

When we encounter Christ, the response is always ‘hook, line and sinker’.  It is always an enthusiastic one.  It is often an extravagant one.  We recognise that we are sinners, that we have more in common with Zaccheus than the rich young ruler; that however religious we may have been all our lives, that we really are sinners too and we realise how great God’s forgiveness of us is…

Everyone can tell a Zaccheus,when we see one.  We can tell by the extravagant generosity of their money and time (even if they seek to do this in secret, as they should); by the way that they hurry to do more for the Lord, as they are desperate to know him more; by their abandonment of feeling self justified, by their religious practices; by their abandonment of treating every discussion about Christ as an intellectual one, about which they have to be persuaded, like the rich young ruler.

But this is where we find the really good news, however much of a rotter we may have been, like Zaccheus; however reliant upon on our own goodness to justify ourselves before God, like the rich young ruler.

We don’t have to walk sadly away.

Father God offers us, through accepting the invitation that Christ gives us, by repentance for our sins, by turning towards him; the opportunity to have our sinful lives, however crimson, washed clean as wool; to reset our lives, as if they had never happened and to find, as Zaccheus found, that salvation has come to our house.


Isaiah 1:10-18

10 Hear the word of the Lord, 

you rulers of Sodom! 

Listen to the teaching of our God, 

you people of Gomorrah! 

11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? 

says the Lord; 

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams 

and the fat of fed beasts; 

I do not delight in the blood of bulls, 

or of lambs, or of goats. 

12 When you come to appear before me,

who asked this from your hand? 

Trample my courts no more; 

13 bringing offerings is futile; 

incense is an abomination to me. 

New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— 

I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. 

14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals 

my soul hates; 

they have become a burden to me, 

I am weary of bearing them. 

15 When you stretch out your hands, 

I will hide my eyes from you; 

even though you make many prayers, 

I will not listen; 

your hands are full of blood. 

16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; 

remove the evil of your doings 

from before my eyes; 

cease to do evil, 

17 learn to do good; 

seek justice, 

rescue the oppressed, 

defend the orphan, 

plead for the widow. 

18 Come now, let us argue it out, 

says the Lord: 

though your sins are like scarlet, 

they shall be like snow; 

though they are red like crimson, 

they shall become like wool. 

 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Is 1:10–18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Luke 18:18-27

The Rich Ruler

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 21 He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 

26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” ……

19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” 

 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 19:1–10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.


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