the wonderful story of Zacchaeus

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Luke 19:1-10

It is interesting how Jesus approached different people. There was the rich young man whom Jesus told to sell his possessions and give to the poor and he would have treasure in heaven. Then to follow Jesus. Although this man had taken the initiative by asking Jesus what he must to do inherit eternal life, Jesus’s answer left him despondent. He would not because in his mind evidently he could not. His possessions were so much a part of his life, who he was. He was after all quite wealthy. The Lord knew what was in his heart and what he needed. Just perhaps he repented later, though sadly, as far as I know, and certainly from scripture itself we have no indication of such (Luke 18:18-30; Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30).

Zacchaeus is a different case. A chief tax-collector, wealthy. Curious when he heard Jesus was passing through Jericho, of course we know on Jesus’s way to the cross. He happened to be short in stature, and so he had to maneuver in some way to hopefully see the Master. And what did he do but run ahead and climb up a sycamore fig tree. And as if on cue, the Lord stops and looks up at Zacchaeus in the tree, and calls him by name, telling him that he must come to his house that day.

Zacchaeus received him gladly, and others were present with them that day. But people were taken back, muttering that Jesus was going to be a guest of a sinner. Zacchaeus’s response is so refreshing. He tells the Lord that he’s going to give half of his possessions to the poor, and if he has cheated anyone, he will pay them back four times the amount. Zacchaeus’s heart is made evident by his words and then the actions which backed them up. Jesus affirmed and confirmed that, when he said that salvation had come to that house that day since he was a true son of Abraham. And that this all figured into what Jesus had come to do: to seek and save what was lost.

Such a wonderful story. In line with scripture’s passion, really God’s passion and priority of helping the poor. I am looking forward to meeting Zacchaeus someday, and hearing more of his story. It brings joy to the heart, just what God can do in our hearts and lives in and through Jesus.

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a psalm taking a stand against evil

Of David. A psalm.

I will sing of your love and justice;
to you, Lord, I will sing praise.
I will be careful to lead a blameless life—
when will you come to me?

I will conduct the affairs of my house
with a blameless heart.
I will not look with approval
on anything that is vile.

I hate what faithless people do;
I will have no part in it.
The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
I will have nothing to do with what is evil.

Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret,
I will put to silence;
whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart,
I will not tolerate.

My eyes will be on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
the one whose walk is blameless
will minister to me.

No one who practices deceit
will dwell in my house;
no one who speaks falsely
will stand in my presence.

Every morning I will put to silence
all the wicked in the land;
I will cut off every evildoer
from the city of the Lord.

Psalm 101

All of scripture is for our edification, even if we may not know what to do with all of it. Psalm 101 is a good case in point. David speaks in terms that are quite kosher in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, but when compared with Jesus’s teaching, we may have questions. Yes, Jesus did get after the religious leaders of his day, and he was rather unsparing, to say the least. They were the ones who judged others, being steeped in what amounted to systemic evil, a system of religion that seemed to encourage superficiality, which lends itself to missing the heart of God’s will: justice, mercy, love, and faithfulness.

David’s words remind us, I think, of how we’re not to merely tolerate others in the sense of looking past what is wrong. At the same time, as Jesus teaches us, we’re to love our enemies and pray for them. We’re also to honor those in authority, as the New Testament teaches, the emperor, which was then Nero. So we’re to honor them, even when they may be dishonorable themselves. We leave vengeance for wrongdoing in God’s hands. And we’re to pray for them.

We need all of scripture. I think David’s words here are not just something we should pin to him, thinking, well that was a different era and has little or no application for us today. We surely do need to read all of scripture through the lens of Christ and his coming. But to write it off as irrelevant would be a mistake. What exactly to do with each line, with each thought, how we’re to interpret that, is problematical. We don’t simply carry over David’s thoughts and actions for us, even if we might pray his words looking to God for God’s answers.

Jesus welcomed all, and would appeal to all. But sin is not swept under the rug. We do no one any favor to do that. We must first look at our own sin, and we grieve and pray over what we see as the sin of others.

So we need to read all of scripture, and pray. The psalms are rich for forming us. And we read them as followers of Jesus. Looking to God to help us, as we prayerfully read and ponder them, in and through Jesus.

Jesus was not always “nice”

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.

“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”

One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”

When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say.

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Luke 11:43-46, 52-54; 12:1-7

The entire passage of the above link, Luke 11:29-12:12 is worth a good slow read. Jesus’s sayings are not only hard, but at spots seemingly impossible (verses 47-51). We don’t necessarily understand, but maybe in the latter case we could surmise that given the light from the past that those of Jesus’s day had, they should have learned and done better. Jesus’s words are often blunt, not coated with the spiritual flourish we often spin in our words and explanations, or more like simply being largely mute on the subject, saying little or nothing.

Of course these hard sayings of Jesus have to be put in the context of the whole. Jesus was welcoming to everyone. At the same time, Jesus never spared anyone. Think of Peter and the other disciples. If you want someone nice who will bless everything you do, and thinks you are fine just the way you are, then don’t look to Jesus. As to how we’re created as humans in God’s image, each and everyone of us, that Jesus would fully affirm. It’s our sin that he won’t. And that’s for our good. Just like children, we shouldn’t suppose that whatever we think and do is somehow okay, or that self-actualization according to our whims or fancy is good.

We have to receive this for ourselves, and I think it also translates over to how we’re to try to help others. We do no one any good at all by simply accepting all they do as alright. It’s not like we should be critiquing those who don’t care. After all, Jesus said not to throw your pearls to pigs. But we do believe anyone can turn and choose to listen so that the light can shine in the darkness so that by God’s grace there can be change, indeed a changed life.

But we must emphasize this for ourselves. And be slow and light to ever put it on someone else. Anyone who is willing to receive such from the Lord or from one of his disciples is indeed truly blessed.

This is all for our good; we need it. We need to receive it for our own benefit, and as an example to others. That they too might learn to receive it for themselves. In and through Jesus.

the upside to being down

Job is a book that is hard to figure out, unless one reads it superficially. You might just pass over it, shrug your shoulders, and go on, which I think to some extent I did for years. But that changed when we had an in depth group Bible study at a church some years back. I had a different view and understanding of it after that.

I take it as a wisdom story, which whether just a story told, or something which actually happened (and I don’t think the rest of the Bible, including Jesus’s words determine that) rings true in ways that mirror the complexity, indeed consternation of life. There are no two ways about it: Life often makes little or no sense to us so that in the end, we have to trust all into the Creator’s hands, while realizing that we aren’t capable of tracing God’s paths or fully understanding his ways.

I love the book of Job, because there’s a unique wisdom to be drawn from it, not readily apparent or received by us, which actually requires the work of a lifetime. Of course the other wisdom books have their unique contributions they bring as well: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and we can include Song of Songs, and even the Psalms.

Job was as down as a human can get, with the exception of our Lord in his partaking of the cup of suffering. I think those of us who are older can appreciate the aspect of the story that really when all is said and done, it can’t be happily ever after this side of heaven. Impossible. And that’s after Job’s suffering when a new family was given which really could not replace the family he had lost, but was still just as great a blessing as the first family.

Job certainly had a new appreciation of God, and of himself as well. It was a new humility in view of God’s revelation of his greatness in creation, so vast and quite beyond humans, so that Job realizes he is required to simply trust, both in God’s greatness, and as we see from the end of the story, in God’s goodness as well. And surely it speaks to the limits of this life, and the hope of the life to come.

Job probably reminds me of a favorite biblical book of mine, Ecclesiastes, since it is not an easy book to pin down, indeed its meaning to some extent can allude us. And that means that if we’re wise, we keep coming back for more.

One basic I think I understand now from Job is that there’s an upside to being down and out, to being at a complete loss. That is when we can find what we otherwise never would: a trust and hope in God which goes well beyond anything we can understand and comprehend in this life, and perhaps even in the next. We simply know in the end that all will be well. And that we’re to work at understanding what we can, and leave the rest to God. A part of what faith in God involves in an existence in which all of our questions might only expose our lack of understanding. The answer in which we by faith now begin to live, in and through Jesus.

tuning out voices contrary to the gospel

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

John 10:1-5

I am thinking today of the many discrepant voices that in one way or another can end up undermining the gospel, and drowning out the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Once you start hearing or even sensing the voice of Jesus, other voices are measured according to that, whether they are discordant, contradictory, or perhaps in harmony with his voice. But what is always needed is a hearing of the one distinct voice, which means disciplining ourselves to actually listen.

The problem is either the error of being taken up with other voices, or simply not being able to clearly hear the one voice needed. We tend to be listening to just one voice at a time as the predominating voice in our lives by which we measure all other voices. And too often it’s a voice which isn’t helpful whatsoever for our spiritual life in God through Christ.

I think I’ll be beating this drum for awhile, as I attempt to make this more a fixed practice and reality in my own life. In and through Jesus.

the difference: God’s word

Whether you read Genesis 1, John 1, or look elsewhere, the difference for the Christian is in God’s word making what is either dark and chaotic, or even nonexistent, good and very good. From creation to new creation, culminated in the Word made flesh. It’s God’s word that makes the needed difference in our lives and out from our lives into the world.

God is personal, and communicates to us through the Bible and the gospel, but does so in a very direct, personal way. God also communicates through nature, and other means, and I’m especially thinking of people who have no access to scripture, or who have not heard the gospel. Scripture tells us that faith comes from hearing the message of Christ. Much to me is in the dark, but I accept what is in the light, and the light and life given to me is through God’s word.

It is important to be in scripture, but equally important to seek to find how it personally speaks to us, or more accurately, how God is speaking to us through it, with the goal of having ears to hear, a heart to listen, and the will to change. Of course it is always and forever by grace, a gift from God, something we could never merit, earn, or deserve, or come up with on our own.

God’s word is what can and will see us through, as we by faith hear and apply it, trusting and obeying God, finding our way through this dark and broken existence in and through Jesus.

everything depends on this

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

This part of Matthew’s gospel is quite interesting, Jesus being in and around Jerusalem for what ends up being his sentencing in what amounts to a mock trial and his death. In the exchange that takes place here with a Pharisee, Jesus answers his inquiry as to what is the greatest commandment in the Law, the Torah. In Matthew’s account, Jesus cites the command following the Shema, and a passage tucked in Leviticus. And then tells us that all the Law and the Prophets, shorthand I think for all of scripture, hangs on those two commandments.

To love is first and foremost. There is plenty else to do, but if we don’t love, it amounts to nothing (cf. 1 Corinthians 13). And to love God with all our being and doing involves knowing God’s love.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:19

And this:

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4:15-16

We love because of God’s love given to us in creation, and especially through Jesus in new creation. That love, as Jesus has taught us, extends to all, even to our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

It’s all about love, really. God’s love for us and the world, and then through us to each other and to all, in and through Jesus.