This week we encounter the story of Zacchaeus. This is a favorite story that is often told to children because it is so relatable. Basically Zacchaeus was a small man who happened to be a tax collector. From all accounts he was neither a believer nor a detractor; he was more of a curious observer. But by the end of the story we see Christ single him out to make an example of how within the large crowd God will still be able to pick out the sinner, not to scold or ridicule, but to offer grace and salvation.
The story of Zacchaeus is a great place to start as we enter a month of studying the theology of reconciliation, because it shows us an example of how much Christ seeks and desires us to be one with him. In Jesus’ own words, he ends this pericope saying “for the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.” In fact, as we see all of the stories of Christ communing, ministering, or healing the outcasts within the society, we also see his desire that they become one in the faith.
Zacchaeus is no exception! In fact, because of his job and lifestyle he has taken advantage of people and hurt people along the way. In his promise to make a mends and not to continue in his unrighteous ways, Christ offers grace and forgiveness, allowing Zacchaeus to be reconciled.
God does this for us. Think about how many times you have heard stories from people who are lost find God in often strange and unexpected places. From people who go to prison and come back changed to people who are thrust into difficult situations and come back with an incredible faith, because they were opened to God’s way.
As I look back on my life, I recognize that I am participating in a clumsy dance with God where I fall back and come close over and over again. The funny thing about the dance that I am in is the fact that no matter how far or hard I fall, God is not only there to pick me back up, but always places a new adventure before me; that is when I open my eyes and see!
I have seen this in many people that I have worked with over the years. Early in my ministry, I had the opportunity to work with a family that found themselves in an impossible situation. Their son, who had been addicted to drugs and alcohol, had finally found his way to rehab and had been clean and sober for 6 months. While walking back from an AA meeting he was hit by a car; by the time he made it to the hospital he was in a coma with a poor expectation for his outcome.
As I sat with the family, I watched as counselors and the director of the rehab hospital and halfway house where he was now living came into the room. In that sort of situation no words could comfort the current situation, but instead of focusing on the current problem, each person told the family stories of how much their son had changed and how he had taken responsibility and had really changed.
The last person that came by was a young man who was walking with him when the car hit. The young man now with watery eyes told the family, “Jason really loved you, and he told me after the meeting that he was going to call and tell you how sorry he was.” At that point the family burst into tears; moments later he died, almost as if he was waiting for his parents to hear that last message.
We sat and even I cried a bit, when his father looked toward me and said “That God of yours is a strange man.” I must have given a puzzled look when he finished by saying, “On the day he took my son, he gave him back to me. I guess I now know what it felt like for him to send his son into this world.”
Granted, I do not believe that God chooses to take lives or hurt people, but I was not going to correct the grieving father, especially since he had witnessed the power that comes from being reunited and reconciled. When I saw the man a few weeks later, I learned that he had begun to go back to church, and that he had sought out the place where his son had changed his life and volunteered to listen and walk with the young men like Jason.
We make a choices in life; one of the most powerful ones is to is to allow ourselves to be reconciled with one another and with God. Like Zacchaeus, our empty lives become full even if we give everything away, even if we lose our lives; to be connected back with one another is one of the most powerful things we can ever do.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen