Jesus, Zacchaeus & Christian Cake-Bakers

canstockphoto16354235Apparently there are some Christians who believe that if they bake a cake for a gay marriage that this constitutes an endorsement of the event, and that being forced to do so is a violation of their religious freedom.

People of all backgrounds and persuasions have been weighing in, with Christians in particular arguing for or against and using Scripture to back their positions up.

In my opinion they are using the wrong Scriptures.

As Christians, we look to Jesus for our teaching and interpret all Scripture in light of his life and teachings, and there is a Scripture that speaks directly to this issue.

It’s the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19:1-10. Jesus is passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. The townspeople would love for him to stop so that they would have the opportunity to show typical Middle Eastern hospitality, but Jesus is on the move. Nonetheless, a crowd forms and accompanies him through town.

Zacchaeus is a tax collector, and rich to boot. He has made his wealth by cheating the people of Jericho, charging them more than the amount set by Rome for their taxes. Like all tax collectors Zacchaeus is considered unclean, unfit for worship. His house is considered unclean as well, and anyone who enters it or has anything but the absolute most necessary dealings with Zacchaeus is rendered unclean as well.

Zacchaeus is also considered a traitor to the people, placing him outside of Israelite fellowship.

He’s rich, but he is utterly alone. When Luke says that he is “small in stature” he’s not just referring to Zacchaeus’ height.

Like everyone else, Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus, but the crowd won’t let him, not just because he is small, but because he’s not part of the crowd.

He’s not one of them.

He is despised.

He is a Sinner, emphasis on the capital “S”.

Zacchaeus rushes out of town and down the road where Jesus will be heading, and he climbs a sycamore tree. This isn’t the same type of sycamore tree we have here in the United States, but a completely different species that is found in Africa, the southern Arabian Peninsula, and Israel.

It’s a sycamore fig tree. In the Bible Israel is often symbolized by the fig tree. Luke could have said that Zacchaeus climbed a tree, but he specifically points out that it’s a sycamore, and his original hearers would have understood that it was  fig tree.

In a sense, then, when Zacchaeus climbs into this tree, it symbolizes his desire—his need—to be connected and accepted into Israelite society.

Jesus passes through town—remember, he’s not planning to stay—and when he sees Zacchaeus he calls him down, saying, “I must stay at your house today.”

Scandalous! The people can’t believe it! “All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’” (Luke 19:7 NRSV)

Jesus is on the way to the Temple, and he’s going to render himself unclean!

Jesus doesn’t care.

He’s going to ruin his reputation!

Jesus doesn’t care.

He’s going to give the appearance that he endorses Rome and its cheating tax collectors!

Jesus doesn’t care.

He knows exactly what he’s doing and how everyone is going to react, and he does it anyway.

Because he does care.

He cares about Zacchaeus.

He doesn’t care about what people say about him or think about him, but he does care about Zacchaeus.

He doesn’t care that he’s “harming his witness,” but he does care about this one man who has been ostracized.

Here’s an interesting note: the story climaxes with Jesus saying, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.”

Not “…because he has promised to make restitution,” which Zacchaeus has in fact just done.

Salvation has come “because he too is a son of Abraham.”

He too.

That never had never changed, no matter that Zacchaeus was one of those really bad sinners that society collectively had excluded.

He was considered “not a son of Abraham” because all the righteous people had said so, not because God had said so.

And that apparently offends Jesus. He doesn’t like it when sinners exclude other sinners and don’t want to have anything to do with them, as if the log in their eye is smaller than the log in everyone else’s.

We are followers of Jesus, which means we are to care about the things that Jesus cared about and not care about the things Jesus didn’t care about.

And if we can’t or won’t let’s at least stop using his name to justify our actions.

By staying with Zacchaeus Jesus did not endorse or support the injustice of Rome and its onerous taxation system nor did he endorse or support the practice of tax collectors like Zacchaeus of overcharging people who were already struggling just to survive.

But neither did he ostracize him. The people of Jericho had already done that, and it didn’t change Zacchaeus.

Jesus loved and accepted him, and as a result Zacchaeus changed.

So bake the cake, people.

Do it lovingly, and see if it doesn’t make a difference.

In you at least. And that’s always the place Jesus would have us start.

Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / lamich

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