I was offended by grace last night.
My wife was reading the story of Jesus interacting with Zacchaeus to our 6 month-old daughter, the version from Sally Lloyd Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible that falls under the heading “The Man Who Didn’t Have Any Friends”. Usually, children’s bibles are filled with simple moralistic truisms, but this particular bible is spectacular in its ability to point to Jesus and his Gospel in every single story I highly recommend it to parents who aren’t trying to raise mean little fundamentalists.
Back to the offense. As my wife read the story I found myself hating Zacchaeus because he was exploiting the poor. I was imagining him taking double taxes from elderly couples, letting his buddies off the hook of their taxes, and wasting the hard-earned money of hard-working people so he could live in luxury. It’s no wonder that people were shocked when Jesus went to his house for dinner.
No Christian wants to be on the side of Pharisees. They are the poster-children for cranky, up-tight, legalists who got Jesus killed. But there I was last night siding with the Pharisees against the tax collectors: “Jesus, you can’t associate with this man who exploits the marginalized. You have to preach against him, not eat dinner with him. This is your chance to really show that God is FOR the oppressed and beaten-down. Attack their oppressor.”
I thought of Madoff going to prison for 150 years. I wanted the equivalent of that for Zacchaeus. That would be justice.
And then Jesus’s message got through: grace is for the oppressed AND the oppressor, God gives me mercy and NOT justice, and God resists the proud BUT gives grace to the humble.
Thanks, Jesus Storybook Bible, for making Jesus’ message so simple and clear:
Jesus loved Zacchaeus when nobody else did. He was Zacchaeus’ friend, even when no one else was. Because Jesus was showing people what God’s love was like – His wonderful, Never Stopping, Never Giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.