Monday, 7 July 2014

King Jesus Meets the Taxman

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. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost (Luke 19: 8-10)." 

I have always been captivated by the story of Jesus' meeting with a particularly infamous man. Jesus was visiting Jericho, one of the great taxation centers of Palestine and while he was there he came in contact with Zaccheaus, a tax collector. Tax collectors, not unlike today, were severely disliked and had the ability overcharge people, taking advantage of their position as Roman representatives. The amount of monies due was often unclear and the chief tax collector was paid by what he could collect on top of the required taxation. To add to the situation, the chief tax collector usually had minor tax collectors under him, who also relied on adding to the taxation required in order to receives payment for themselves. With such an open ended situation, corruption was inevitable and the reputation of the tax-collecting profession was abysmal. While Rome got its required amount to build the needed infrastructure, the subjects of the empire were taxed in a way that was unfair and exploitative. In Judea, the tax collector was also seen as a Roman collaborator, working with those who dared occupy a throne belonging to the line of King David. Tax collectors were hated plunderers of their nation, extortionists and traitors who were far from God. In the eyes of the general populace they were on par with thieves and murderers. If a person who pleased God was one who followed the laws given by Moses to the letter, then the tax collector was seen to be the antithesis. Most Jews knew that God despised tax collectors. If God was a King and good law-abiding people were citizen of his kingdom, then tax collectors were the kingdom's enemies.  One such chief tax collector was Zacchaeus of Jericho. It was while Jesus was visiting his town that Zaccheaus went to catch a glimpse of this travelling teacher who had a reputation of associating with 'tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5: 30).

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.  All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'"(Luke 19: 1-7)

It was then the penny finally dropped for Zacchaeus. Whether it was a prior awareness of Jesus' message or a prompting from God, Zaccheaus showed himself to be a changed man. In a heartbeat of Jesus' loving acceptance of him, Zaccheaus set about showing that he was different. Where once he had behaved unjustly to others, he know showed that he had become a 'just' or righteous man, full of loving kindness to those around him. He had become 'born from above' or 'born again'.

Jesus said “I can guarantee this truth: No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. (John 3:3). In Jesus Christ, or King Jesus, the Kingdom of God had arrived and those who heard his message and obeyed him had a place in that Kingdom. With this came a renewed, reborn understanding of self, God, and the world around, based on love for one another. In this kingdom it was love that ruled, summed up in Christ's commands,

"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22: 37-40)."

Christ's disciple, John, son of Zebedee, wrote,

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4: 7-8). 

This was the day Zaccheaus became 'saved', the day he knew that he no longer belonged to the old world, bound by injustice against others and God. It was the day he became a citizen of the God's world of loving kindness that was just beginning to blossom. As an outcast Jew, he knew it was impossible to follow all the laws given by Moses to the letter but he saw that Jesus offered a way of love that would fulfill that law in spirit and make him 'righteous' or 'just' in God's eyes. In fact all who followed the way of God through Christ could be set free from the chains of the past. Zaccheaus now traveled the path of love that would lead its very pro-claimer, King Jesus, to die in the place of all who deserved death for their injustices against God and others. The greatest act of love in history set us free so we could walk this world in love, representatives of the God's kingdom, in a world struggling under the Kingdom of Darkness to emerge into the light of love.


Friday, 4 July 2014

The Love of my Life

Nat King Cole once sang ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return’. I must say that as I grow older this continues to be the greatest truth I’m learning. When I think of fashion, money and fame, they all fall dim in comparison to love. My love journey began in the arms of my parents who taught me about family, loyalty, sacrifice and this adventure continued when I met the love of my life, Susanne. We met on Australia Day in 1995. It was a beautiful summer evening at a popular South Australian beach. I had gone there with a group of friends to visit someone we all knew who was pole sitting for charity. 

Now for those who don't know, the pole sitting discussed here involves a small cabin perched in top of a 10 foot pole. A series of these poles are lined up in a row and the participants are lifted up into the cabins via a cherry picker. With each of them being sponsored financially by family and friends, the pole sitters spend 24 hours in their cabins before changing over with someone else. While the pole sitters are up they are also able to collect money from passers by via collection buckets on the end of ropes. It was amongst these lofty towers that I met my beautiful wife. 

As I talked to my friends and pole sitters, I started chatting with a girl who seemed amazing. All I could see was a silhouette, ..…but oh what a silhouette. She had a voice that was golden and to top it off she knew who I was. She was a friend of the person we'd come down to see and she'd seen me before. All I knew was that I wanted to see her again…and in the light of day. To make sure of this, I left my phone number in her donation bucket. 

As we left to go home, I knew the long wait had begun. Would she find the number? Would she call and when? Would she be interested in me? And what did she look like in the light? She did call eventually, but only after making me sweat. And we've been together ever since.

My beautiful wife is a truly amazing woman. She is the mother of my four beautiful children, a hard working nurse and my best friend. She puts up with my grumpiness, passive aggressive mood swings, my aversion to organization, my vagueness, my weirdness and my ability to leave my shoes lying anywhere. This is by no means an exhaustive list but enough has been shared. On top of this there is the children. They've also inherited some of this unfortunate behavior. Now there are 5 pairs of shoes lying around.

Susanne is a woman with a deep commitment to God. This is highlighted by the ten years of service she gave as an officer in The Salvation Army, as well as her continued involvement in the life of the church and her work as a nurse. She has a beautiful way with people and I love to watch interact others. Basically I think my wife is amazing.

After 17 years of marriage I am forever grateful that my love journey is with Susanne. She is the most beautiful and graceful woman I know (my mother, mother-in-law and daughter definitely get an honourable mention though). She is fun, fabulous, smart and drop dead gorgeous. Everyday I am thankful she is in my life and everyday I try to make sure she knows, with out a doubt, how much I love and respect her. 

Through our relationship I've learnt that it's so important to find out those things that make your partner feel loved… and to actually do them. Don't assume those things are the same for them as they are for you. Be careful not to dismiss and ridicule them when they're not. We all give and feel love in different ways. You might think your showing love but they may not see it that way. 

‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return’. Be merciful to those you love. Relationships aren't about scoring points for yourself but about enriching the lives of those you care for. At the end of the day life's not an exercise in how much you've earned or achieved but about how well you've loved. As for me, I want Susanne, and the family we have together, to know that they are loved, not because of what they do but because of who they are. She is the love of my life and every day, through the fog of work and parenting, I try to make sure she knows it. Life's too short for anything less. Susanne Castle…I love you.