Last week I wrote a modern-day retelling of Luke 3:8-14. That post, as most of my writings do, came out of my daily Bible study. And that very same day, I also read the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. The two texts do a great job of complementing one another — John preaching repentance and Zacchaeus acting as a living example of it. Look at these excerpts, the first is Luke 3:8-9, 12-13:
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
…Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
And now Luke 19:7-10:
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 what was lost.”
The crowd likes to find peace in, and determine spiritual standing by, past events: I was born of Abraham. I’ve been baptized. I accepted Christ. I was a good Jew. I went to a private Christian university. My dad’s a preacher. I grew up in the Church of Christ.
John, however, doesn’t focus on the past. Instead he looks to see if an individual is showing the fruits of repentance: Do you make, and keep, more money than you need? Do you eat your fill while others starve? Do you give away one warm coat when you have two? Are you content with what you have? Do you have greater love for people or for things?
Zacchaeus has a rough past, but he seems to focus on the present: “Look, Lord. Here and now I give… to the poor.”
Jesus, too, seems to focus on the present: “Today, salvation has come to this house…”
And best of all, Jesus’ view of the present changes the past: “…this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” Zacchaeus is born of Abraham as an adult. He’s born of Abraham at that moment in which he has and exhibits true faith. As are we.
What I’ve learned:
- We can’t judge another by his/her past.
- We can’t rest on our laurels.
- Having been baptized at one time doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
- Going to a particular church doesn’t excuse me from loving my neighbor.
- If you want to know if I’m a Christian, look for fruits and not an ID card.
- Jesus loves the lost, and wants to change their present AND their past. And he is capable of doing so.
Praise God for saving us from our pasts, for changing those pasts, and for making us new people. Here’s to hoping we act like it.