When the loving presence of God arrives in Jesus, it transforms our lives with a Love-Driven Justice that bears fruit for generations, for the sake of others…
I want to imagine a story we’ve never read before (because I wrote it recently). It’s a story of some early Christians visiting the city of Jericho many years after Jesus had been resurrected and gone to be with the Father. They heard there was a ministry there that needed to be encouraged, and so they made arrangements to visit and see what God was stirring in that place.
As they arrived in town, they began simply by asking where they might find the leaders of a movement known as “Balm from Balsam”. Balsam was a very expensive product produced mainly there in Jericho, and it was a ministry that helped to ensure that those people profiting from the sale of Balsam gave support to workers who previously hadn’t many rights. It was widely known that the Balsam trees in the area of Jericho produced a large amount of profit – most of which was taken by Rome, but some of which also lined the pockets of powerful people in the Jericho area. The slaves who were forced into labor to extract and preserve the balsam juices and wood, however, often lived in horrible conditions, and were seen simply as tools to attain more product.
The story was, years ago there was a man named Zacchaeus who had his life dramatically changed when Jesus came to visit his house. Followers of Jesus had heard the story over and over again, and they had seen it in the lives of others, but the story of Zacchaeus had always been a bit of a mystery beyond the day Jesus shared a meal with him. Different versions of the story existed, but they all seemed to agree – the heart of Zacchaeus was dramatically changed after that visit. Zacchaeus gave away more than half of all his possessions and finances – paying back all of the people he had defrauded over the years, 4 times whatever he had taken from them. This was not a simple matter, as he had been a meticulous record-keeper. He knew exactly how much he had overcharged so many people, and how his entire household had benefited from the money that had been taken.
The story goes that the Jews in that area already hated him for overcharging taxes all of these years – and when he went around town handing out money, they began to actually fear him. He was accused of being possessed by a demon, since it was the only way some people could make sense of such a dramatic change, and a seeming disregard for his own financial state.
Not only that, but Rome began to want Zacchaeus dead as well. He’d been charged with treason over and over again, but somehow continued to slip through their grasp. As soon as he began to charge people honestly for their taxes, Rome began collecting less and less money from the region of Jericho. He demanded that all of the tax collectors who served under him be honest in their dealings, and he would check their records to make sure no one was being unfairly treated or oppressed. He found one tax collector under him who continued to line his own pockets by over-charging people – and fired the man from his position. That man went over his head to Rome, and came back declaring that Rome had put him in charge now as the new chief tax collector for the area.
After he lost his position, Zacchaeus offered himself as a sort of “financial advisor” still, helping people to calculate what they should owe the empire, and stirring all kinds of controversy when he helped people stand up and demand financial transparency and accountability. After a while, he and his family went into hiding, and it was rumored they were traveling to share the gospel. But after years, when this new movement, protecting and promoting fair wages for Balsam workers started, people began to wonder if some son or grandson of Zacchaeus had returned to Jericho. The people who helped to run it were so meticulous in their record keeping, it certainly sounded like the man himself was somehow returned.
Sure enough, after a few conversations with other trusted Jesus-followers, they located the grandson of Zacchaeus. He was sitting at a desk, and in front of him were ledgers of the names of local workers in the Balsam industry. He explained that he begins each new day by praying for these workers by name – because they are usually treated as if their name doesn’t even matter. He makes note of whether they have been baptized as a follower of Jesus yet, and prays for opportunities to share about Jesus with them. He then devotes himself to working and serving their interests however he can. When the visiting followers of Jesus asked him why he works so hard to do such work each day, he simply told them the story he’d heard of his grandfather many years ago…
As we look at the story of Zacchaeus, we find a bit of a mystery. It’s hard to put a finger on when or how the heart of Zacchaeus was transformed. We don’t see an obvious gospel presentation. There was no altar call. There was no physical blindness or lameness, and then a healing that transformed his heart. We simply move from Zacchaeus in a tree, curious to know more; to Jesus welcomed as a guest in his house, to Zacchaeus declaring a transformation of heart by his tangible responses of repentance.
Was it simply the fact that welcoming the presence of such LOVE is enough to bring New Life? Was the indwelling presence of Jesus that came to break bread – transformational in ways that made Zacchaeus a completely New Creation – even before knowing all the truths and vocabulary to describe what had happened?
Is it possible that, even if you aren’t sure who Jesus is – inviting the presence of His Love into your home and life can bring transformation to your understanding of self, of God, and your ability to Love others in a new and Just way?
Is it possible that simply bearing the loving presence of Jesus in the midst of your family, your friends, your neighborhood, and wherever your day takes you – is enough to transform those environments for His glory?
The Loving presence of God in Jesus inherently brings redemptive righteousness (rightness/justice). Will we notice Jesus today, looking into our eyes, inviting us to welcome Him into new areas of our lives?