Reading a letter in a daily national newspaper in the last week has prompted me to revisit the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, found in Luke Chapter 19:1-10.
Jesus invites himself into Zacchaeus’ home. Then Zacchaeus’ world is turned on its head. He promises to give half his possessions to the poor and repay four fold those he has cheated. Woven within this story is the evidence of God’s generosity at work bringing gladness. Generosity and gladness are some of the defining features of the early Christian communities described in Acts Chapter 2:42-47. There is gladness for Zacchaeus too in being generously acknowledged by Jesus as worthy of receiving salvation. Evidence too in the generosity of spirit released from Zacchaeus as he behaves justly and blesses the poor and dispossessed.
This story of Zacchaeus may well have inspired the work of the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (www.z2k.org) set up to prevent and relieve poverty in the UK in a manner consistent with Christian ethics. Their letter in the newspaper was part of a campaign to demand that the DWP stop misleading the public and to call for an independent investigation into the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). A call too for the next Government to engage with the compelling evidence that points to the harm Universal Credit is causing – leaving many people reliant on food banks and others destitute. The Advertising Standards Authority has confirmed there is simply no evidence to back the DWP’s claims about people being better off on Universal Credit.
This news comes in the weeks left for campaigning before the December general election. Will the outcome of this change the direction of many people’s lives? Our nation’s future will depend on how the great sums of money will be spent that the competing political parties are now promising in order to attract voters’ support.
Will Christian gladness and generosity be in evidence in the next Parliament? Will those seeking to be MPs see that their salvation and that of the people they represent is linked to how justly they deal with the poor and those who have suffered from the past years of austerity?
The lesson for Zacchaeus when confronted by Jesus was to recognise that his salvation was possible because of God’s generosity. His generous response in turn was to bring a very practical salvation to others: saving them from the poverty and the injustice he had played a part in imposing on them.
It is a challenge we face too. A lesson we need to learn from. Not only in how we live but in what and in whom we put our trust.
Will Christ’s universal message of hope continue to seek out and save the lost?
Will those who most need salvation receive it?
Will we choose the right MPs to be both fair tax collectors and good stewards of our country’s resources? Will they in turn generously help the poor and gladly exercise justice and mercy in what we have entrusted them to oversee on our behalf?
Revd Geoff Ellis
photo, Geoff’s own