Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Do you stand out in the crowd?

“…Look! The tears of the oppressed, and no one was there to comfort them. And there was force from the hand of the oppressors, and no one was there to comfort them.” Ecclesiastes 4:1 MEV

We know God comforts the oppressed, by why would God care about comforting oppressors too? God has a much bigger vision than we do. The closer we grow to God, the more we’re able to see beyond painful experiences, and see the people who’ve hurt us with eyes of compassion and forgiveness. True forgiveness gives us eyes to see how people who’ve been used by evil to hurt others are victims of that same evil as well. Instead of burning with revenge, we want to see them healed, because forgiveness has healed us first and all the pain of the past is gone.

Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, was an evil man by all accounts. He was a Jew who was a traitor, a henchman for the Roman oppressors, a blatant thief who extorted money from his own people to pay off Rome and pocket the rest. He was filthy rich and hated by the Jews of Jericho where he lived. He had to watch his back because Jewish zealots who carried concealed daggers would happily assassinate him if they had a chance. Being a tax collector for Rome was a great-paying job, but it meant being expelled from the synagogue and the Temple in Jerusalem. It meant being forbidden to speak to his own family. He was worse than a pagan, because he’d been born into the Chosen People but had chosen money over God. 

Jesus came through the city gates with a huge crowd clamoring to be close to Him. The news of His miracles and amazing teachings had spread far and wide. He’d become a celebrity of sorts, and the curious Jews were expecting a very holy man, just like their Pharisees and temple priests. But Jesus did something very unholy. He saw that greedy little thief up in a tree, pointed him out and announced that He was choosing Zacchaeus’ house to eat and spend the night. Of all the people there, why Zacchaeus? Why would Jesus ignore all these poor Jews of Jericho who’d been oppressed by the Romans for years and choose to honor the house of their oppressor? 

Jesus had eyes to see past the superficial labels that everyone else saw. Among that crowd of admirers, only two had caught Jesus’ attention that day. The first one was Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who’d been shouted at by the crowd to sit down and be quiet, but instead of rejecting him, Jesus had healed him. The second man was Zacchaeus, the thief. God singled out those two men, because no one else in that town had a passion for Jesus as they did, and He knew it. One, an oppressed beggar, the other, the oppressive thief. Only Jesus could see their burning desire for God at that moment in time, and He transformed both of their lives forever.  

Our lesson is:

  1. Holding grudges against enemies and withholding kindness from the suffering, make us lukewarm and useless to God.  
  2. Forgiveness enables us to see things through God’s eyes, to have compassion on our enemies, and believe in their ability to change.
  3. Jesus doesn’t care about the past, He cares about who we are at this very moment, and whether or not we’re ready to act by faith.
  4. Be careful who you assume is unworthy of God’s blessing – Jesus sees beyond labels, and so should we.
  5. A passion for serving Jesus is what makes us stand out!

When they saw it, they all murmured, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I will repay him four times as much.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  Luke 19:7-10 MEV

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