Two bits of narrative have been really stuck in my head recently. First, a few days ago I read the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. There are many remarkable parts to that story, but I cannot seem to shake this bit: Zacchaeus “received [Jesus] joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled.” Of course just a little bit before that in Luke we read of the father exuberantly receiving back his lost son. Now it is the wayward son of Israel receiving the savior who has come to him.
Zacchaeus is a mess, and everybody knows he is a mess. Still, something about Jesus’ reputation has compelled him to draw close. In Jesus, he finds “salvation” and receives it joyfully. Given the care Luke takes in his research, I think we can take his inclusion of this story as a testimony to a genuine and lasting change—a conversion—in wee Zacchaeus. The joy with which this man receives his Lord must be evidence of true faith and trust. He had no doubt heard for ages how sinful he was as a tax-collecting collaborator and how angry God must certainly be with him. Nonetheless, he “received him joyfully.”
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Elise and I have been watching the Great British Baking Show (or for the legion of UK viewers out there, the Great British Bake Off) thanks to my parents. In the season we are currently watching there is a young woman named Ruby who had a very rough start to the season. No matter how good her bakes actually are, she seems unable to gain any confidence. She hears only the criticism of what she has produced. She approaches the judges with a downtrodden countenance, blurts out every flaw she can think of (sometimes even inventing problems which do not actually exist), and speaks in such a self-effacing way that one has no doubt that she does not believe she deserves to be in the tent with the other contestants. She is desperate for approval, but even when receives validation for what she has done she seems to receive it only with a sense of relief, not with joy.
I can only describe Ruby the Contestant, because I do not know Ruby the Person. TV producers have a way of showing us a story they want us to see, and it is likely that they have helped to create a character. It’s entertainment after all!
How many of us, though, receive Jesus with only a sense of relief? How many of us continue to worry that what we produce isn’t good enough? How many of us worry that we haven’t attended enough church events, haven’t volunteered for enough things, haven’t given enough money, haven’t done enough random acts of kindness, haven’t built up a big enough church? How many of us approach God with so much trembling that it excludes the profound joy exemplified by Zacchaeus? How many of us, anticipating that sort of dread, simply do not approach our Heavenly Father at all? How many of us grumble at what God is doing in the lives of others because we do not recognize our own salvation looking upon us?
How can we manifest the power of God in a broken world if we do not believe what he spoken to us and over us? May we recognize not only the offer of forgiveness presented to us in Jesus and our need for us, but the trustworthiness of God’s “fatherly goodness towards us,” so that we may show others whatever it was Zacchaeus saw in the Son of God that caused him to “receive him joyfully.”