29th March 2009

Prayer as Care

Luke 19:1-10

     In the last of our Lent series on prayer we think about prayer as an expression of our loving care for others. We usually pray for family and friends, but also for people in the news who attract our concern. Jesus, however, showed that his concern reached the most unlikely people.

     Tax collectors in the time of Jesus were even more unpopular than they are now! The Romans sold tax gathering rights to the highest bidder; the Romans set quotas, and the tax collectors added extra for their own income. Zacchaeus was a ‘chief’ tax collector, who probably had a number of tax collectors working for him. He was therefore feathering his own nest at the expense of his fellow townspeople. He might have been small in stature, but he would have been a tough character, with no regard for others’ feelings or circumstances. He was not the sort of person that most townsfolk would want as a friend.

     Zacchaeus was used to getting his own way, and did not care what people thought. He wanted to see Jesus, so he found an unorthodox way to do so. We are not told why he wanted to see Jesus. It may have been curiosity to see a celebrity, or hope that he might see an amazing miracle. Perhaps he had an unconscious desire for something better in his life. However,  there was no chance that he would be allowed to get to the front of the crowd, or into any position where he could use his influence to have an audience with Jesus. So he went ahead and climbed up to a good vantage point.

     We don’t know whether Jesus was the first to see Zacchaeus in the tree, nor whether he already knew who he was. No doubt the crowd would have made the most of the opportunity to have some fun at the hated tax collector’s expense – if Jesus gave them any time. His reaction to Zacchaeus shocked them. No rabbi should tolerate going anywhere near such a sinner, let alone his home. Yet here was Jesus inviting himself to stay!

     The fact that Zacchaeus had tried to see Jesus perhaps made Jesus aware that there was hope for him, if he did not sense it already. No-one else would have wanted to give Zacchaeus hope – he was too evil a man. But Jesus cared, even for a man like that. The result was something none of the crowd would have foreseen: genuine repentance, accompanied by generous recompense,  which would have changed Zacchaeus’ lifestyle and his relationship with his neighbours for ever.

     What had this story to do with prayer? Simply this: that in our praying for others we must not limit ourselves to those we naturally care about. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and that includes some pretty unsavoury characters. We are continuing his mission.  We are learning to look at people through Jesus’ eyes. That means we do not only see the outward appearance, whether rich or poor. We do not only see the tough exterior, the face that is put on to show the world. We see them as individuals whom God cares deeply for, whom he wants to join his kingdom and be in his family.

      We can pray with hope. Zacchaeus seemed to be beyond hope; yet his encounter with Jesus changed him completely. Situations and people that seem hopeless can be transformed. God is still at work, and his creative power has not faded over the years. The link between Jesus and a situation often seems to be forged through prayer: though God can and does act without our prayers, it seems he prefers to act in response to his people’s intercession.

     We can pray with hope for people as well as situations. Paul’s prayers recorded in his letters were mostly that God would grow his people’s faith and character. We don’t have to confine our prayer to situations where there are problems!

     We can pray with hope for blessing. We want God’s ‘face to shine’ upon us; let’s pray that for others also!

Questions:

1) How do your prayers reflect your love?

2) What answers to prayer for others have you received recently?