Dealing with horrible people

I find it interesting to notice how Jesus dealt with folk that other people would dub “unpleasant.” Take Zaccheus (Luke 19) as a case-study.
Even today, to describe yourself at a party thus: “Well, I work for the Tax Office,” STILL creates a slight frisson of disgust. Zaccheus was in a completely different league. Worse, I mean.
Not just a tax collector but one who collaborated with the occupying forces of his country. A quisling. A Traitor.
And in the tight religious communities of first century Palestine he was an outsider, a covenant-breaker. A person of no character. A horrible person.

So how does Jesus deal with him? Well, he insists on being nice. Imagine that. He outrages the crowd’s prudish sense of decency and respectability.

And what’s more, he’s absolutely clear about his rationale. I’m doing this, he says, because “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.

When I was working in prison, I noticed that the guards had two ways of dealing with the prisoners. They either saw the concept of prison as punishment -clear and strightforward- or as an opportunity for rehabilitation.

And generally, we express two ways of considering crime. We take (a) THE HARD LINE: with no allowance for frailty-we don’t think about temptation, nor distinguish between circumstances. It’s the law. There is no more to be said.
Or, alternatively (b) we take THE SOFT LINE, where it’s all laxity and liberalism; it’s not their fault: it’s human weakness, they made an error in judgment, just a mistake, an unfortunate circumstance, bad genes, parental drinking problem.
We’re either too soft or too hard, and the trouble is: neither works!

Jesus is totally different. He maintains the highest standard of right (“Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall never enter into the kingdom of heaven.” ) and yet shows a total tenderness for the unrighteous. He felt compassion for the ruined, and infinite gentleness for the fallen.

Our “holiness” repels people. In our normal street vocabulary, we only use the word “holy” in the phrase “Holier than thou.” We’re just deeply unpleasant towards horrible people.

Jesus, by contrast, manifested a purity that actually attracted them. He stood among the broken and offered hope, newness of life, a new beginning…
Because he was SON OF MAN. It van mean “Son of humanity” or even “The human One.”

That is to say: Everything that was human touched him. He was a family member of the human race.
They missed that BIG PICTURE…. Do we?
Separated by denomination, by race, by age, by gender….WE INVENT REASONS FOR DIVISION
What did that mean to Zaccheus?
Well, it meant everything…
Salvation has come to this house… this man too is a son of Abraham
He’s one of us! You missed it, but I see it clear. He’s my brother.

Jesus was … and is SON OF HUMANITY
And he seeks the LOST
Lost by circumstances
Lost by their own desires
Lost through distraction
Lost by secret sin

“…..Think of what might have been”
He restores my soul
He puts back the pieces
He renews
He restores
He rebuilds

“Heartaches, broken pieces, ruined lives are why you died on Calv’ry.”
So how would you restore the lost?
Increase the level of punishment?
Banish offenders to keep your society pure?
Forgive everybody easily? Decrease the level of punishment?
What is Christ’s way?
By true sympathy
He overwhelmed Zaccheus with his love…
By true holiness
“….I will draw all men to me”
How do WE restore the lost?
Through real fellow feeling and through the image of God made manifest.

And that’s how it worked for Zaccheus: He saw both his own problem and his own solution when he met Jesus.And this is the heart of the Gospel. We are redeemed by the life of God without us, manifested in the person of Christ, kicking into flame that spark that is the life of God that is within us. Without Him the warmth that was in Zaccheus’s heart would have smouldered uselessly away.

Through Him it became life and light, and the lost was saved…

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