Overflow - Generosity's Wellspring message by Young Adults/Teaching Pastor Luis Menjivar. For more information, visit cornerstone-sf.org
We are talking about overflowing life. We explore what life could look like through this theme of overflow. As I am getting to share this weekend, I want to propose something I’d like us to consider. I’d like to propose that Jesus’ generosity toward us is meant to become a wellspring of generosity through us. If we ever give Jesus an honest look, one thing we can all agree on is Jesus was a giver. He was a man of generosity. Jesus had a generosity of spirit, generosity of word, and certainly generosity of action. It wasn’t meant only to remain with those who received Him. Although there might be seasons where that is where we are and that’s okay. Ultimately what God longs for and what I’m proposing is that whatever generosity we receive from Him, it’s meant to become a wellspring, a fountain flowing through us. Jesus does this. He desires this for us, all the while refusing to override our own ability to choose.
He gives us the privilege or the responsibility of deciding. If I could use this image of how far we’re going to open up the spigot and how we’re going to let Him flow through us. It’s really our decision to make. The whole idea is that God wants us to become people who do not just receive His generosity, but also give it away. The idea is captured pretty effectively in the gospel of Luke in this one account. It’s an account of a man with whom some of us may be more familiar with than others. His name is Zacchaeus. Luke opens up in Luke 19 with this account in verse one. Luke says, “He entered Jericho and was passing through,” He, being Jesus, “Jericho and behold there was a man named Zacchaeus.” Luke gives us a little bit of information about this man. He tells us his occupation and status. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. Out of everything Luke decided to utilize, to give us an idea of what this man was like, he chose to say, he was a chief tax collector. He was rich. He was wealthy. This is Luke’s way of giving us a picture of what was about to happen.
Luke wanted us to understand a couple of things that those who were reading in the first century would’ve understood readily. Which is Zacchaeus was a man who was in Jericho. Jericho was about two or three miles outside of Jerusalem. It was Luke’s way of telling us Jesus was getting closer to His ultimate destination, which was Jerusalem where He would make the ultimate sacrifice of giving His own life. Jesus is making His way there. He’s passing through Jericho and there’s this man named Zacchaeus. First, tax collectors are rarely popular. They’re not going to win any popularity contest. They’re not people who are highly regarded. “Yeah! Tax collectors!” That doesn’t really happen. However, Zacchaeus was in a class all his own because he wasn’t just disliked by people. We could say he was despised by people. The reason is we have to understand how Rome set things up.
The Roman empire exacted taxes from the different provinces they had conquered. It was the way they sustained their capital and government. Each province would collect taxes. The Roman government itself, wouldn’t be the ones collecting. In the hopes of dodging the vitriol most people have towards such a crowd, ended up giving this duty to noblemen or members of the Royal Court who were knights of the Roman empire. The Romans themselves didn’t collect taxes either. They would sell the rights to collect from different provinces to the highest bidder so that the Royal family and government wouldn’t be the ones blamed if there was an insurrection or uprising. The Romans wouldn’t be the target. It would be whoever was the highest bidder. The highest bidder would end up hiring locals from each province. Judea was in the province of Syria, which is where Jericho was. The locals hired oftentimes would be seen as betrayers of their own people. These locals would end up ultimately representing the Roman empire. They would have the full backing of the empire. A certain amount of quota had to be met to measure up financially. The local hired had the ability to utilize that power in order to enrich themselves however many times they would like.
Just so we have an idea of the type of person Luke is talking about and understand the situation in which he found himself. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. He oversaw other tax collectors. Taxes were onerous. They were heavy to carry. We’re told there was an annual income tax. There was an import and export tax on individuals. There were crop, grain, wine, fruit, and olive oil taxes. There was a sales, property, and emergency tax. There was a tax for the road and military. On and on it went. The group of tax collectors was known as a cabal because historians have compared them to our idea of what a mafia looks like. They had the muscle of the Roman empire to extort. Not just ask what was required, but to force many times over.
There were tales told of tax collectors sitting on the road of travelers. They would be able to stop a traveler, force them to come out, unload everything they were carrying, and they would take a portion of whatever the traveler was carrying. The traveler had no power to do anything other than comply for fear of Rome. Luke is giving us a picture of a man, Zacchaeus, who made a calculated decision. He decided to burn all his bridges in his community socially so that he could become rich. He decided to trade his relationships for wealth. To say that he was a man disliked is an understatement. To say that he was a man despised by his own community would be closer to reality. In verse three we’re told Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was. He couldn’t because of the crowd and he was small in stature. Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed into a Sycamore tree to see Him, as Jesus was about to pass that way. If Zacchaeus was a man despised by people, Jesus was a man revered by people. Wherever Jesus went, people heard about Him. He was an attractive person, not just in His communication, but in the way He represented God and others. No matter what walk of life or place they came from, they felt comfortable drawing near to Jesus. Crowds would start to develop wherever He went.
This happened throughout Jesus’ entire ministry. Jesus is walking through Jericho and the crowds started to gather as they hear Jesus is here. Zacchaeus is one who wanted to hear about this Jesus. His reputation preceded Him. Jesus comes near to where Zacchaeus is in the tree. Luke tells us he’s a man of small stature. No doubt he was short, but some have speculated as to whether or not that was also a description describing so much more about Zacchaeus. Perhaps it described not just his height, but the size of his character or standing in the community. If he was a man of wealth who was respected, no doubt there would be a desire for people to make room for him. The exact opposite happens. It’s almost like people close ranks and say, “No, there’s a wall right here. You go to the back. Do you want to see Jesus? Too bad. You’re a tax collector.” Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd ends up making his way over. He climbed up into a Sycamore tree. Think about a wealthy man climbing a tree to see Jesus. Verse five tells us that when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down for I must stay at your house today.”
Zacchaeus hurried, came down, and received Jesus with joy. We might not know that in the ancient near East culture, to invite oneself over to somebody else’s house is not rude as it would be interpreted today. “I’m going to your house to eat today.” “Oh, thanks. I didn’t have plans.” So Jesus is doing something that is honoring Zacchaeus. Especially a man of His standing to say that to Zacchaeus. It was meant to be emphasized as an amazing statement. The significance of a meal in that culture and time in history. Well, a bold statement. It wasn’t a privately held statement. It was a statement that Jesus was essentially making, not about Himself, but about Zacchaeus. This man who is despised, marginalized, and seen as a betrayer of his own people, Jesus ends up making the statement, “I deem you worthy of relating to. I deem you worthy of being the host.”
Jesus leverages out all the reverence, respect, and everything that people gave Him. He uses it to stamp something on Zacchaeus. Because of that, we understand why Zacchaeus hurried down and received Him joyfully. He did not expect anything even close to that. He says, “You coming over to my house, honors me with your presence.” The statement wasn’t lost on Zacchaeus, but it also wasn’t lost on anyone else. Everyone understood exactly what Jesus was doing. They didn’t like the implications because we’re told verse seven, that when they saw it, they all grumbled. Jesus is going to be a guest of a man who is a sinner. You get the sense people are walking with Jesus; the one many have spoken of, the miracle worker. This is Him. Then walking with Him and seeing the despised man in the tree. They hear Jesus call Zacchaeus by name. Zacchaeus comes down and they disappear into his home.
The crowd is saying, “What? He went with him? Does He not know he’s a sinner?” Now that word wasn’t meant as a compliment. It was a grumble. It was an insult. It was an accusation that was leveled against Jesus throughout His entire ministry. Time and time again, people used it to undermine His authority and it was leveled against Him to undermine His spiritual weight. They would say, “If He was the man that He pretends to be, clearly He would know you don’t mix with that crowd. If He was the man that we think He is, then He is not a man of weight, authority, and spiritual understanding.” That’s what the accusation was meant to do. It was meant to undermine His reputation. That is why anyone who had any kind of spiritual office in that culture was very, very leery of hanging out with the wrong crowd. To do so would be to torpedo one’s reputation and to lose credibility with a wider audience.
Jesus treated the culture status quo cavalierly. He would do this constantly. The reason it was such an effective accusation is that the society they operated within had certain expectations of how one was to relate to another. It may not be effective today in our city or time in history, but it’d be good for us to understand in that part of the world and time in history. If there was somebody who was outcasted from the community and wanted back into the community, then that person needed to demonstrate changed behavior first. Once a change in behavior happens, then a relationship could happen. Jesus violated that constantly. This is what Jesus and Jesus alone was able to do. He would relate first and then not condone the behavior. He had an amazing way of being able to relate with people who were living in a way that we would call not God-centered. Scriptures call it ungodly. Jesus had a way of communicating, approaching, and being approached in such a way all the while not condoning or giving a pass to what was happening.
The result would be a God-oriented way of life. Jesus would say, relationship first, Godliness, second. This is what He did. This way of living is what made Jesus amazingly attractive to a wide variety of people. This confounded those who were used to living with a certain religious discipline and regimen. At the same time, it pleasantly surprised those who were used to being outcasted and marginalized. Jesus was able to walk this line in this manner. Anyone who interacted with Jesus couldn’t help but be deeply affected by the man. Even those who walked away from Jesus walked away impacted by the words He shared. This interaction was no different. In fact, Zacchaeus ends up having this meal because he receives Him. As the crowd is grumbling outside, we are not told by Luke what happened in the conversation. We do know that a meal was had and Jesus had an interaction with Zacchaeus. They had a conversation in which either Jesus became the culminating point or addressed certain things that were already happening within Zacchaeus. It is why he was seeking Jesus to begin with.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. Something happened to Zacchaeus, something erupted. At the end of this meal, while the crowd is outside stunned, grumbling, and upset that Jesus would dare to do such a thing we’re told in verse eight there is a radical change. Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor. Half of my goods. I’m giving it away. If I’ve defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” That “if” is a rhetorical one. It’s better to re-read it as, ‘to those whom I have defrauded I will restore four times what I’ve taken,’ which in itself was well beyond what the Jewish law asked of anybody who defrauds their neighbor. Zacchaeus ends up standing up out of this meal and says, “Lord I hear you. Half of what I own. I’m giving away.” Zacchaeus steps into this place of recognizing his faith isn’t something to be privately held without impact on everything else in life. No, what Zacchaeus is stating is, ‘my faith is altering how I live my life. It’s changing every other aspect of how I run my life.’ In his case, that meant generosity and restitution.
Making right what Zacchaeus had done wrong and being generous with what he had, he didn’t do in a vacuum. He didn’t stumble into this idea. It falls in line with what John the Baptist was asking people to do who wanted to join in what God was doing. John the Baptist was a forerunner of Jesus. He came out in the wilderness. He was a man who was wild. He’d challenge people. People were so impacted by John’s words. He would say, “Listen, the Messiah is coming. We need to get ready for Him.” People would ask him the question, “What should we do?” This is well before Jesus started His ministry. In Luke 3:10 we’re told, “the crowds asked John the Baptist, ‘What then shall we do?’ he answered,” and this is John’s way of saying, here are the implications of faith in God. “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none. Whoever has food is to do likewise.” Be generous, is what he said. You want to line up with what God is doing, live a generous way. Look who’s called out, verse 12. “Tax collectors also came to be baptized.” That is to say, “I’m joining up with God.” They said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Don’t extort. He didn’t say, “Stop collecting taxes,” which would’ve been nice. Jesus said, “Do your job. You have some authority, carry it out, justly. Do your job justly.”
The soldiers asked John, “what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation. Be content with your wages. Don’t abuse your power. Be content.” John basically tells the crowd three things that will demonstrate an internal change. If your life becomes characterized by carrying itself out in a way that is just, and if in your life you find yourself discovering contentment, then don’t grasp for what is beyond you. It’s okay to be content with what you have. Those three things will demonstrate what is going on in your heart. Jesus sees us. He hears Zacchaeus say this, and it’s almost as if Jesus rejoices. In verse 9, Jesus said to him, “Zacchaeus today salvation has come to this house since you also are a son of Abraham. He’s not just of the lineage of Abraham, but he has Abraham’s faith.”
He turns and says, “for the son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” It’s almost as if Jesus is responding to the grumbling crowd and upon hearing, what is He rejoicing over? He’s rejoicing over the fruit of what’s going on within Zacchaeus. He’s rejoicing over the changed external evidence of a life made right with God. He’s saying, “Zacchaeus, you got it. You understand.” In his own way, Jesus says, “This is why I came. This is why I hang out with sinners. I’m seeking and saving any who are lost. I want to find them. This is why.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but love Jesus for the way He carried Himself. He didn’t bow to pressure and He didn’t condone. He still challenged. He called us up. He called Zacchaeus to another whole level, the overflowing life. What does this have for us?
In the moments we have left, I’d like us to consider a couple of things. Firstly, I think this shows us that Christian generosity begins when we seek the one who has been inviting Himself into our lives. This whole thing began because Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. Luke was careful to note that a wealthy man was so determined to see Jesus that he ended up climbing a tree to get a glimpse. He humbled himself, didn’t he? He risked seeming undignified to see Jesus. He didn’t let his wealth, sense, or the trappings of it prevent him. He also, you know what this also shows me about Zacchaeus? He didn’t give in to the victim mentality. Did he deserve some of it because of what he had done? Sure. But he didn’t let the rejection of the people stop him from seeking Jesus out. He proactively sought Him out. What Zacchaeus discovered is that he was seeking out Jesus without knowing that Jesus was seeking him out as well.
For those of us who are exploring faith in God, so many times this is what it’s like. We might be in a season where we are seeking something where we might have some questions. We might be at a crossroads or in a season of pain. We might be in a season in which we find ourselves a little bit more open. We’re wondering if there is more to life than this? We might find ourselves in a place of frustration or even anger. Something inside of us is bothered and we are pressing in. Right now, we might be wondering, ‘why I haven’t found the answer yet.’ Could this have one? What we will discover if we are sincere and earnest in our seeking, is that desire for more. That very desire to want an answer, to find something of substance, purpose, and meaning. It might be God Himself knocking on the door of our heart saying, “Hey, can we have a meal? Can we dialogue? Can we talk?” We’ll find ourselves pleasantly surprised that we are seeking the one who has been seeking us. It’s in that place we discover how to be hospitable.
Hospitality is the ability to welcome. There was no one more hospitable than Jesus. He makes God approachable and it is worth investigating not just His words, but who He was and is. If that’s the case, then that’s for us to consider if we are exploring. For those of us who have come to a point where we are convinced that Jesus is who He says He is, we have received such hospitality from Him in the courts of God. It reminds me, hospitality is a universal language of generosity. It knows no boundaries. I remember when I was young, my parents decided to take me to El Salvador, which is where they were from. I was around eight or nine years old. El Salvador found itself on the tail end of a decade-long civil war. I remember going there and seeing soldiers in every corner, sandbags piled up, at night hearing all kinds of stuff that now I remember looking back was active warfare. Tension was in the air. There was a sense of fear and something going on at all times. Even in that atmosphere, I remember being impacted. I think it will stay with me the rest of my life, but I remember experiencing something in that poverty. I remember it did not prevent anyone from demonstrating hospitality to another.
This has been said by people who have experienced this in other nations and environments of poverty. There’s something about it that humbles without pretentiousness or any kind of the things that we’re used to in a wealthy society. Humble hospitality is sometimes the best kind. I remember experiencing that. I remember with what joy it was given. I was reminded of it when we took our teens over to Mexico.We had a meal with people who decided that out of their poverty to welcome us in. We went to serve and found ourselves being served. I remember experiencing just how beautiful that was and how moved we all were by that.
It reminds me of this passage that Paul called the Romans to. He told him, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor, do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation. Be constant in prayer, contribute to the needs of the saints.” It was his way of saying, give to your local body and seek to show hospitality. Paul is saying, ‘we who have received such an embrace from Jesus, who are the church are to show each other hospitality.’ This mark is what impacted the first-century Roman Empire, the church. The church is not this building. The church is us. In a society such as ours that is fast-paced, always on the move, and to be hospitable is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other and those around us. We are supposed to be the most hospitable people others come in contact with. This is where generosity begins when we seek the one who is seeking us constantly. If that’s the case, then Jesus’s presence in our lives will also cause internal tension. It will cause internal tension with regard to our time, resources, and pursuits. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I could say that every time I came to read His Word or I come to Jesus that I feel so like, “Yes!”, but sometimes I end up feeling troubled. How about you?
When we read His Word honestly, and allow His Word to interact with us earnestly, then sometimes it ends up bothering us. It ends up digging into areas in our lives and causing a dissonance within, not a sense of peace, but an unsettledness within us. It ends up calling things out of us that stir discontent. It ends up prodding and prying into the inner depths of our soul. It ends up moving in such a way that is altogether different than what we’re used to. Jesus doesn’t do that in a way that causes us to be ashamed. He doesn’t do it in a way that causes us to feel condemned because He doesn’t condemn. He challenges us and speaks into our lives in a way that is scarier than that. If it was shame-filled, it’s so easy to write, “You know, stop judging me. You don’t know, you don’t understand”.
Jesus does give us something we’re not used to. He gives us a gracious confrontation. He gives us something that is far more impactful. Jesus says to Zacchaeus, “I will relate with you. No preconditions. Let’s have a relationship, but let’s have an honest conversation. Our relationship is not in danger, but let’s talk I’ll honestly with one another.” Zacchaeus didn’t come out of this as a man ashamed. We don’t know exactly what was said in that conversation, but I think I can say with high degrees of confidence, Jesus didn’t shame Zacchaeus into what he did. He didn’t condemn him. He didn’t listen to the group around him. Maybe his own inner thoughts did that well enough. Jesus did something far more life-giving. Historically, in our Christian faith, if that disturbance is there within us, it has been called conviction. If that is the case and we are in that place, wisdom would tell us to pay attention. It’s there in that conviction that God, through His spirit might be trying to create a wellspring of new life to emerge. In that place of exactingly pointing something out in our lives, graciously and lovingly. What He is doing is plumbing the depths of our soul to create something new to emerge.
If we remain in the conversation long enough and allow Him to challenge and speak to us, we’re going to find ourselves inspired because Christian generosity flows from the heart. This is our final thought. Christian generosity flows from a heart that is inspired by God’s generosity. It is never something compelled on us. It is something drawn out of us. It is something that is bubbling within us because we come to recognize how much we have received. Jesus said, “I came to seek and to save the lost.” What was the one thing Zacchaeus couldn’t pay for? Being found. He couldn’t do it no matter how much he tried. Only Jesus could find him. The gift of being found is why Zacchaeus is told, ‘you’re created.’ This is what you were meant for, the gift of being called up out of something. I’m convinced that Jesus, in that conversation, didn’t shame or condemn him. Jesus called Zacchaeus. You have something in your heart you want to do, now it’s time to do it. This is who you’re meant to be. God wants you in His family. Now it’s time for you to step into who you are supposed to be.
Zacchaeus received what he could never earn. He discovered he had something to give. In his case, he had much to give. Those of us touched by the grace of God discover that He gives us what we could never pay for. In our hands, we discover there is something all of us can give. Not one of us is without something we can give. That gift of discovering makes us ask the question, ‘how far will we open this spigot? How far will we open and let it flow?’ May we be ones who step in courageously to what is already happening within us and may we experience the joy that comes with it.
In a minute, we’re going to receive our time of giving and closing song. I want to pray and ask for His blessing and we’ll move in together. Lord, I thank you. I thank you, God, that you are the God who seeks us out, that you are the God who welcomes us in. You are the God who gives. I pray Lord that you would give us the ability to hear what this might look like in our own lives. Would you sustain a flow through us that reflects your heart to us? I pray that you would be a wellspring within us and you would bless not just our lives, but many lives through us. We ask for this Lord, in Jesus’ name. Amen.