The Justice That Seeks and Saves, Part Two

What does the LORD require of you?  To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10).

Are you catching echoes of the prodigal son story in the story of Zacchaeus?  A son who has “un-son-ed” himself based on his attitudes and behavior … a good shepherd/good Father who seeks the return and restoration of all his lost “sons” (children) … a celebration, with some standing outside, grumbling … a central character who, having done nothing wrong, nonetheless takes upon himself the cost of making things right …?

What does it take to rescue a lost sheep?  First, a good shepherd, who leaves the ninety-nine to go off after the one, a good shepherd who seeks and saves the lost.  A King who understands justice as more than the condemnation and punishment of wrong-doing and wrong-doers.  The justice of the kingdom seeks and saves the lost, whether they are on the receiving or the giving end of oppression, injustice, sin.

Second, it takes a lost sheep who is willing to be found.

Zacchaeus, though wealthy and powerful, is lost; what he’s done is done and cannot be undone.    The only thing that could ever set Zacchaeus right, and on the road to righteousness, must come from outside Zacchaeus.  Jesus’ deceptively simple statement, “Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house today” is the gift of costly love.  Like the Good Samaritan, Jesus is going to “pick up the tab” for Zacchaeus’ defilement.

In response to the costly love of Jesus, Zacchaeus repents. His repentance does not cause the costly love of Jesus, it is in response to that love. Repentance is an ongoing, lifelong process; we see the first steps of it now in Zacchaeus’ life.

Willing to be found, Zacchaeus climbs down from his tree, joyfully receiving Jesus’ lavish hospitality towards him, and returning that hospitality to Jesus. 

The costly love of kingdom justice continues.  While Zacchaeus makes an extravagant promise, Jesus actually identifies him as a “son of Abraham” before Zacchaeus has actually done anything, before he has followed through on his commitment. 

But Zacchaeus has acted knowingly and intentionally—the dinner party he hosts for Jesus would have been a very public event—and it will now be up to Zacchaeus to continue in repentance, to learn to walk out the son-of-Abraham status that Jesus has graciously conferred upon him.  Abraham responded to God and left home, not knowing where he would be going; something similar is going to happen for Zacchaeus, the justice (and mercy!) of the kingdom taking him places he never imagined going.  Having been found, will he continue walking in the ways of his Finder?

Zacchaeus now begins to embrace the justice of the kingdom.  Having received kingdom justice, which neither minimizes the sin nor reduces the sinner to his sin, Zacchaeus now begins to act justly (“I will repay”) … to love mercy (“I will give a large gift for the poor”) … to walk, we hope, humbly with his God.  Not only has a man’s life been changed; the clamp of oppressive injustice has begun to be broken in Jericho—an entire community receives an invitation into a new way of life.  A kingdom way of life: just, merciful and humble.

In which parts of your life do you need to be willing to be found by your Good Shepherd?  What forms might your turning toward him take?

[Editor’s note: Today and yesterday’s’ posts rely on the work of Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, InterVarsity Press, 2008, p 175-85.]

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