Now retired, I spent 28 years in Treasurers’ departments collecting revenue from ratepayers, poll taxpayers and then Council Taxpayers, not to mention Business Ratepayers. All through those years I and my colleagues were never despised. We might have been an annoyance but it was accepted that we had to collect revenues for the many councils throughout the United Kingdom. In other words, we were never hated.
The tax collectors in Jesus’ day were very much hated. It was bad enough to pay taxes to the Romans, but paying the extra added on by individual tax collectors to go into their own pockets was despicable. So it was that a tax collector was barred from the synagogues. They were considered to be the lowest of the low.
Yet, reading the gospels, we know that Jesus came to the marginalised and tax collectors were among the marginalised. Jesus actually called a tax collector, Levi (Matthew) to be an apostle. Later he called Zacchaeus down from his vantage point and invited himself to tea! People were shocked. They had come to meet this charismatic prophet from Nazareth whose name was on the lips of the whole country. But, here he was, consorting with tax collectors and other sinners. What was all this about? No one of such standing would ever have anything to do with such people, surely.
At this point I would like you to think who, today, would be considered to be the lowest of the low in our society. I think you might select those who have been stock piling and leaving the supermarkets empty of vital goods as the corona virus starts to affect the population. Here we are in a land of plenty and there are people emptying the supermarket shelves of essential goods. There is ample to go round and we have to keep cool and let it work through. The poor critical care nurse, having done a 24 hour shift, arrives in the supermarket to find that just about everything has gone. It is nothing short of disgraceful.
Most right thinking people have been shocked at these stories. What has happened to community spirit? Well, there are volunteers helping those who cannot help themselves and that is a good thing. On the other hand there are others saying, “Blow you, Jack. I’m alright.”
This latter group, however, are not beyond the love of God. They are welcome to come back to God at any time they like, provided it is an act of repentance. So the love of God and the grace of God is still here for them. Like Zacchaeus, they should repent by repaying what they have robbed the population of, who couldn’t get to the shops in time. But will they?