Jesus Loves Those We Don’t
It is easy to love our type of people. We all gravitate to certain personalities, classes of people or those with similar histories. It is natural to get along with them we have things in common. This looks different among people but tends to be about things we share, both good and bad. Cowboys tend to get along with other cowboys. Addicts hang around other addicts. Even Christians tend to find it easy to enjoy other Christians of similar denomination or background. These are the easy people in the relationship arena. It is not challenging to get along with those who look like us, sound like us and have similar values. There is nothing wrong with this. An accent giving us comfort because it reminds us of our childhood home is normal. These are the easy folks for us to love.
The real challenge comes when we step outside of these commonalities. Seeking out the people we instinctively don’t mesh with is hard. Actively loving those we dislike and distrust is nearly impossible. Yet, Jesus asks us to do just that. He asks what credit is it to us if we get along with those who love us? The implied answer is nothing. It is no credit to love those who love us. That is just natural.
Real love starts when nothing bonds us with others. This is exactly Jesus’ Way. Jesus is perfect, righteous, and holy. He loves God with all His heart. He hung around the flawed, unrighteous sinners. He loved His enemies. We start acting like Jesus when we love the really hard people. This is what happens when we cross racial, societal and respectability boundaries.
Jesus loved His people, His Jewish disciples, and family, perfectly. He also disregarded nationality, prejudice, hatred, and societal boundaries to love those who were unlovable.
He loved the prostitutes, tax collectors, and Gentiles despite the cost. He even loved you and me despite all of our faults.
He calls us to do the same.
Are we ready to do so?
Zaccheus the Wee Little Traitor
Zaccheus is the subject of a cute and catchy children’s song. “He is the wee little man, the wee little man was he.” His is one of the most cherished stories of the New Testament. Zaccheus was the tax collector who climbed a tree in order to get a better view of Jesus. The Lord seeks Zaccheus out in that tree and he is saved on the spot. It is a wonderful story of determination and redemption. Our storybooks often show a cute little man up a tiny tree.
We can lose the sense of what occurs in this encounter in our retelling. Zaccheus is a wee little man, yes, we understand he is short.
Do we get he is also a terrible person? He is chief among the tax collectors, a Jew, and a very rich man. This tells us a lot about the man…all of which is bad.
A Thief, Outcast and Traitor
A tax collector worked for the Roman Empire. The Empire did not care how the tax collectors got the bills paid or how much they charged. They collected as much as they could and Rome received its cut. Tax collectors were like ancient loan sharks. They made their money by inflating the tax bills. The more they got away with charging, the more money they made personally.
Israel’s agricultural economy depended on growing a sufficient crop, storing it and raising livestock for each year. This was difficult, back-breaking, and time-consuming work. The tax collectors were like locusts preying on this livelihood. In bad years, the tax collectors took the homes, businesses, and lives of Jewish people. They were seen as heartless thieves.
The tax collectors were also viewed as traitors and collaborators. They worked for the Romans enforcing the servitude of the Jewish people. The tax collectors made sure there was never enough money or power maintained by people to revolt against Rome. They betrayed their families and country for the sake of money. They were never accepted by respectable Jewish society.
They were cut off from Jewish society as a result. They were not allowed in the Temple or to participate in Judaism. They were cut off from God and God’s people because of their crimes. They were viewed as the worst sort of people. Jesus even uses tax collectors as synonymous with sinners in His examples. Everyone knew they were the scum of the earth. They were the worst sort of outcasts.
Zaccheus is a cute little man up a tree to us. He was the worst sort of detestable traitor and forsaken of God to the Jewish people.
He was a pariah to be hated and avoided at all costs.
Jesus Came for the Lost
There is a large crowd gathered to see Jesus. There are thousands with all sorts of reasons for being there. They most likely all considered themselves “good Jews” unlike that horrible Zaccheus. Yet Jesus seeks out only one man among the crowd that day. In our familiarity with the account we can’t miss how crazy this would seem to the mass of people:
So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19
The one man everyone hated in that crowd was up in a tree. He was likely there because no one would let him through to see Jesus. Everyone else agreed God hated Zaccheus. “There was no need to let that tax collector through. God would not have anything to do with that sinner.”, they likely though.
Jesus chooses him anyway.
Loving the Unlovable
Jesus specifically sought out Zaccheus. He then speaks his name, “Zaccheus, come down, I am coming to your house today”. Jesus calls the sinner to Him by name. He knows everything about the man. He is not blind about how Zaccheus oppressed His people and stole from the rich and poor alike. Jesus even is aware of how much the crowd hates Zaccheus.
Yet, Jesus goes straight to this outcast and calls him to God. No amount of societal pressure will ever deter the work of Jesus. God loves the whole world and chases even the ugly, lame, disobedient sheep. His love is greater than our disobedience. This why John says:
Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!
We see this all throughout the Bible. Jesus chooses the Roman Centurion, the fishermen, the woman possessed by demons, and the adulterous woman about to be stoned. He lays His holy hands on the lepers, the demon-possessed and those viewed as cursed. Jesus is a friend of sinners, the old hymn says, and the Bible bears this out. When the man blind from birth is thrown out of the synagogue for standing up for Jesus before the Pharisees, Jesus shows up and comforts him. Jesus shows love the outcasts, the lost and those society discards. That is just who Jesus is. He is both a friend and redeemer.
He Makes you Pure
There is a subtle irony present in the account. Jesus identified and called Zaccheus by the name his parents chose for him. Jewish parents often picked names based on their hopes and dreams for their child. They are rich with meaning.
Can we imagine what Zaccheus’ Dad and Mom had in mind when they chose his name? It means “pure” in Hebrew. Their greatest desire for their baby was that he grew up to be pure. How sweet!
How far the little man had fallen from this calling when Jesus found him!
There was nothing pure or holy about him. This was the reason he is up a tree. From the account, it is obvious he is aware of his own sin:
Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”
It seems to be at the forefront of his mind. Jesus says nothing about Zaccheus’ job or past, yet he immediately turns to repentance. Everyone, including Zaccheus himself, knows he is not pure.
Yet, Jesus still comes to him and calls. Jesus is going to his house today because Jesus is just that good, holy, and loving. It has nothing to do with Zaccheus’ merit. God desires to show mercy and grace to even the worst of sinners…even you.
This is Jesus’ example of how we should treat His sheep. They may be lost, dirty, and defined. We are still called to love them. They may have stolen, cheated, and turned against what we hold dear. We are still called to love them.
They may be so far from purity their Biblical name became ironic. We are still called to love them. If this is the example of our Lord and Master doing the business of His Father in heaven, who are we to argue with methods.
It is Gods’ kindness that leads to repentance. God sent Jesus because He so loved the world. We are known as His disciples by our love for His sheep.
Are we displaying that sort of Jesus love in our daily lives to the easy people and the hard?
If not, what is stopping us?
God saved us despite our not being His sort of people.