Jesus' last sermon - The least of my Brethren
In this time and age where throughout the Christian churches in Asia, Gays are denounced from the pulpit for choosing a homosexual lifestyles by those who obviously did not chose their heterosexual lifestyles. Being Gay is not a choice and no one would choose a choice of utter alienation. They are the least in our society. In Luke 19, as Jesus was winding down His world tour before arriving at Jerusalem for His final Passover and subsequent death, He made a final and unpopular stopover. Jesus knew His time was coming; yet He chose not to visit His parents at Bethlehem. Instead, His final stopover was at the house of Zacchaeus, a very rich chief tax collector at Jericho, 27 km away from Jerusalem. The religious authorities were going to use this against Jesus for the tax collectors were considered the least in the society and the worst "sinners" being an agent of the Roman rulers and known to take personnel bribes. The decision by Jesus to stay at Zacchaeus was so unpopular that it is mentioned only in Luke but no other Gospels. What was Jesus' final sermon to a group considered the least in society in view of His coming death and resurrection not 1 week later?
There are many zealous Christian pastors who would without hesitation condemned Zacchaeus and demand that "he repent ...". After all, he was a "sinner" and had stolen money from the poor. A hard sermon is to be preached and not a feel good type they proclaimed that people would take stock and be changed. Yet, it wasn't a sermon whether hard or soft that changed Zacchaeus, it was the presence of Jesus, the presence of God, the goodness and mercy that Jesus shown to Zacchaeus not giving him the due rebuke that changed his heart. Zacchaeus responded to the mercy of God (for not rebuking him), and for His grace (by accepting him even though few did) by giving on his own accord half his wealth to the poor and restoring all that he had cheated. It is the grace and mercy of God that results in change. It is the tangible presence of God and combined with an open heart of gratitude that changes people.
During Jesus' stay at Zacchaeus, there was much expectation that something great was going to happen even the coming of the kingdom and rule of God and the expulsion of the Roman rule. Jesus preached his last sermon In the presence of Zacchaeus and his tax collector friends, and Jesus' disciples and supporters - truly the least in the community. The Pharisees and their agents would want not to be seen with sinners. In Luke 19:12, Jesus spoke of a nobleman coming to receive his kingdom and to return. before leaving, He gave minas or money to ten of his servants for them to do business. After collecting his kingdom, those who were found faithful gained great rewards, the servant who gained 5 minas was given 5 cities, and the servant with 10 minas was given 10 cities. The servant who kept the minas and did not put it to good use was persecuted and even what he had was given to the servant who the most faithful. The same sermon was repeated in Matt 25:14-29. The Christian church and their "prosperity doctrine" in Singapore would relate to this as receiving what you sow. Therefore, the church are encouraged to sow money into the kingdom of God to receive many fold in returns. Such interpretations are not insightful and regrettable because it takes no account of the context of the sermon. What was the actual message that Jesus wanted to convey? that is so important and fundamental that he preached it in His final sermon?
Jesus was speaking to Zacchaeus and his tax collector associates who would be able relate to Jesus' message concerning money. These are people who invest and consider good returns as paramount. The talents are symbolic of the gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus. The servants are different groups of Jewish people. The Pharisees have had great exposure to the message of redemption and repentance. They sent agents to follow Jesus everywhere to find evidence to implicate Him. They did not made good use of the good news they had received but instead rejected Jesus. The tax collectors on the other hand have had much less exposure to Jesus. But the little they had, they remained faithful, they believed and accepted Jesus, repented of their sins and received His gift of life. Jesus had invested much time with the Pharisees, yet he got nothing back. The little time He invested with the "sinners", the least in the community, He got much in return by their willingness to receive Him into their lives. The Pharisees thought they were righteous and that they would go to heaven. They knew from the Scriptures that Jesus would come. Yet what they knew did not bear good fruit nor profit them much for when the Jesus, their Messiah came they rejected Him and His gift of eternal life. Therefore their reward of salvation and place of honor in the Messiah would be taken away and given to the least in the community that they have so despised. The message is therefore a kingdom message of those who has found their righteousness in Christ to receive eternal life.
Jesus is the "nobleman" mentioned and the talents or minas given to each of the servants are but His gifts of eternal life. The thought of leaving His disciples soon must have impacted strongly upon Jesus. Jesus was talking about Himself. He was the nobleman who will leave soon to a far country, to heaven. Before He left, and resurrected into heaven, He gave us the gift of eternal life. Have we received Jesus? or it is by our works and self righteousness just like the Pharisees who rejected Jesus. The "story" told by Jesus has yet to be fulfilled. Jesus is coming back again and when He comes back, He will judge on how we have treated His gift or "talent" of eternal life.
Jesus went further to explain His Kingdom message:-
The above verses have been favorites of those who advocate the Gospel of Social Justice where as Christians they insist that we have a duty to minister to those who are poor, hungry, and homeless. Being opposite to the Christian Right, this interpretation is likewise not insightful and fail to consider the context and the setting. The good works listed are not a deliberate agenda or focus of Christians. Rather, it is the natural result of receiving Christ as our righteousness. It is bearing the fruit of the redemptive work of Christ in our lives. We are the servants mentioned earlier who are faithful in accepting Christ. The fruit of acceptance of Christ' finish work at the cross in our lives, is that we are naturally concerned about the least in our community. Jesus highlighted the poor, the hungry, the sick and the homeless, the general principal being the least in our community especially that of our Christian brethren . We are again reminded how Zacchaeus once converted gave willingly half his wealth to the poor truly bearing the fruit of the Gospel.
The Pharisees considered Zacchaeus a sinner and themselves righteous before God. However, to Jesus, they are doomed for external punishment when He comes back from the long journey, and are goats seated at the left hand side as compared to lambs seated at the right hand of God together with Jesus for the lambs have taken on the righteousness of Christ by receiving Jesus instead of rejecting Him. The Pharisees had a deliberate agenda to do good works, to help the poor, appearing righteous. But before God, their righteousness was found wanting. Their hostile treatment of Jesus Christ reflected how they would treat the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, and the outcasts in their midst . Likewise, when they cast out the least in their community, the tax collectors, they are casting out Jesus. When we are self righteous considering ourselves more righteous that the least in the community, we may end up rejecting Christ and His gift of righteousness.
Jesus last sermon, 2,000 years ago was overshadowed by the events took place in the next few days thereafter, His death and resurrection . Yet, it showed His heart for the people least regarded in the community. The sermon taking place in the house of a tax collector reflects special heart for the least of the brethren, the least in the community. The religious right in those days rejected the tax collectors even though they were "brethren" because they were from Abraham. Two thousand years later, Gay Christians have been likewise rejected by the mainstream churches even though we are brethren in Abraham through Jesus Christ. Gays are despised and considered the modern day outcasts. Jesus is coming back again. His last port of call before the cross was the least in the community. Likewise, His last port of call before He returns back would be those that the religious and the self righteous despised most, the gays and the lesbian community. Jesus equates acceptance of the least in the community as accepting Him. Let us not cast out Jesus and be cast out into the darkness. As we come before God this day, let us seek His face and ask for forgiveness where we have inadvertently rejected the gay and lesbian community and to give us a clean heart through His gift of His Son giving us eternal life.