Loving others is easy, right? Maybe if they’re beautiful, rich, or have the same ideas as you. How about loving someone who looks or worships differently than you? What if someone is living a life that contradicts your convictions? Is it still possible to show love?
The simple answer: Yes. A resounding and world-changing yes. But since when has the answer ever been simple?
We like to complicate things. We’re experts at this. Rather than showing love, we show how right we are, and how wrong they are. But this doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve seen friends who are struggling with something that we Christians don’t have a clean answer to. It’s ok to not have an answer. I desire to see a love-filled journey to the answer together. However, it’s so much easier to recite a text condemning certain behavior. Being right is dangerous. Feeling righteous is a perilous place to be.
How does this happen? How did we get here? Does the Bible have any advice?
A Rich Man and a Tree
Journey with me through Luke 19:1–9. Let’s see how Jesus treats the marginalized that the “God-fearers” don’t know how to handle.
As Jesus is passing through Jericho with a large throng of people around Him, little man Zacchaeus climbs a sycamore tree to see this Jesus that everyone is talking about. To his surprise, Jesus notices Him, and even more surprisingly invites Himself over to Zacchaeus’ house.
You see, tax-collectors during this time were despised. They were considered some of the lowest of the low due to their active allegiance to Rome. This was perceived by the Jews as an ongoing rebellion against God’s sovereignty.
In today’s terms, a controversial outcast of the Christian society would include homosexuals, alcoholics, addicts, proponents of abortion, and virtually anyone that worships differently. This (far from exhaustive) list may seem startling and insensitive, but it’s the reality of how tax collectors were treated in Jesus’ day.
I struggle with this. Often, I have been a part of the crowd that was irritated at Jesus’ choice to hang out with that guy. I was with them when they grumbled, “He has gone to be the guest of sinner.”
They knew he was a sinner, and I’m right there with them rightly accusing this person of his sins.
While we’re debating amongst ourselves about how wrong of a life this person is living, look at the interaction of mercy and grace that we’re missing:
Here we see Zacchaeus, the man who had been hated for his entire life, react to the One who shows sincere compassion.
“Look, Lord,” he cries. “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.”
This response is astonishing especially when considering that no words have come from Jesus’ mouth to prompt this proclamation. The focus appears to be quite simply that Jesus gave him His time. Resulting from Jesus’ loving, non-judgmental presence, this man’s life was put on a trajectory that would not have occurred otherwise.
Jesus replies to Zacchaeus with, “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.”
Wow. Talk about counter-cultural. Through His example, Jesus shows us that we are to seek out those who are in known sin, not to tell them how right we are and how wrong they are.
Consider what Jesus says just one chapter prior in Luke 18:17, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” Like the tax collector, babies depend fully on the caregiver, with their only claim being their great need.
Maybe we should remove some of our righteous pride. Maybe we should humble ourselves and be a little bit more like the tax collector.
Original article written by Jonny Wilczynski here.
Jonny has been involved with Enspire Productions since 2009. He is currently enrolled in the MDiv. program at the Andrews University Theological Seminary.