Sunday, February 5, 2012

Crank That Volume

The big rage these days is 3D. It might simply be the revival of an old gimmick the electronics industry has been able to dress up with 21st century computer technology and then foisted on a bored populace. Then again, people might actually be seeking more depth in their lives—perhaps they don’t even know it. Maybe they’re all interrelated such that the boredom exploited by the industry has been caused by a sense of an unspoken dimensionlessness in society. Whatever the reason, and despite the apparent marketing potential, 3D is worth pursuing because our world and the people who populate it exist in more than two dimensions. If we can, we should try to see things in at least three dimensions because invariably something is lost whenever we try to flatten things out into two.

A friend and elder at my church, Scott Ribble, recently explained how he has been trying to show his fifth grade Sunday class the importance of reading the Bible in 3D. Actually he called it volume; he encouraged them to crank that volume, which of course any pre-teen is ready to do. But what does Scott mean?

Scott observed how easily it is for us to regurgitate the Scriptural narrative accounts quickly in monotone—what he calls low volume storytelling. He used the account of David confronting the giant Goliath as an example. If we just gun out the story all we’ll conclude is a vague sense of how cool it was the pipsqueak David took out the formidable Goliath. Yet if we slow down our reading of the narrative and crank that volume a little we begin to hear the account in all its humanness. These were real human beings struggling with the same issues of fear, popularity, jealousy, shame, purpose, dreams, and on and on we all struggle with. Only when we hear in 3D the resentment of David’s brothers, the jealousy of King Saul, the hauteur of Goliath, and the faith of David can we take away something powerful, genuine, and applicable to our own modern lives. Only when we ponder our humanness do we begin to fathom the Divine.

Scott is quite insightful in teaching us to crank that volume. And this I intend to do with another familiar Bible account.

On His last journey to Jerusalem, Jesus and His disciples passed through the town of Jericho. Jericho was the garden spot—dare I say it—Eden of Palestine. All the rich and famous gathered there, and it was the logical last stop before Jerusalem. Jesus’ fame preceded Him, and everyone wanted to get a look at the famous Rabbi, even a little man by the name of Zacchaeus. But he was prevented.

If we read the account of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10 in low-volume here’s what we’ll get: Jesus entered the crowded streets of Jericho. Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax-collector, wanted to see Jesus, but he couldn’t because he was too short. So he climbed a sycamore tree. Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down because Jesus and His disciples would stay at Zacchaeus’ house that night. Zacchaeus repented of cheating his countrymen and would make restitution, and Jesus said salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house.

Let’s crank that volume.

Zacchaeus was a rich man who got rich as the chief of tax collectors by lining his coffers by cheating his beleaguered fellow citizens of their hard-earned cash. Zacchaeus coordinated all the tax collectors and made sure he was paid handsomely for it. When Zacchaeus later said, “If I have cheated anyone of anything, I am paying back four times as much!” the Greek construction of that statement (i.e., for all you grammar buffs: a first class conditional statement) tells us that he was admitting to having committed fraud. Zacchaeus wasn’t simply trying to look good before Jesus and the others witnessing the scene. Why did he openly admit to being a crook and then repent?

Zacchaeus was a very short man. When he came out into the streets of Jericho that day, one can only imagine how much everyone jeered him, repulsed him, and took advantage of the situation to get a little payback. He likely heard things such as, “Back of the line, twerp,” or “My mother died because of you, so get lost before I break your face,” or “How much will you pay me for a place up front?” or “Short people got no reason; short people got no reason to live!” (That last person was obviously an ancestor of Randy Newman).

When Zacchaeus climbed that tree, he carried with him a lifetime of ridicule, marginalization, anger, resentment, guilt, and yes maybe a degree of satisfaction with his revenge. Have you ever been put down, treated unjustly, rejected, or abandoned? What was your first thought of response? I’m not saying Zacchaeus was a victim; he could have chosen to rise above it all, but he didn’t; and he was culpable for his sins. But he was also the human tragedy.

Where this story picks up, all Zacchaeus had was his wealth; and the revenge that brought him that wealth had likely lost its luster in the face of loneliness. This is all of us; this is fallen humanity; this is the result of the chain-reaction of grasping, competition, jealousy, posturing, snubbing, and selfish-ambition among human beings; this is the outcome of hate.

But something amazing happened. Jesus reached with the hand of mercy through all the muck, misery, avarice, anger, and shame that clung to Zacchaeus. Jesus knew who Zacchaeus was and how he got to be that way. More importantly, Zacchaeus knew that Jesus knew it. But for the first time Zacchaeus heard, ”Despite of who you are by both the world’s and heaven’s standards, you still have worth; you are precious in God’s sight.” Jesus demonstrated His willingness to sacrifice His own reputation in order to love Zacchaeus and ultimately save him. This was a colossal action on Jesus’ part because the lines separating the classes of society in those days were many and inflexible (hmm, some things don’t change, do they?).

It was Jesus’ sacrificial love that changed Zacchaeus. When Zacchaeus experienced God's love, it clearly showed him his own lack of love. Had Jesus taken the tack that we most often take—regretfully even some confessing Christ—of telling Zacchaeus how he had cheated people and so deserves what he gets, and if he wants things to go better for himself he had better mend his ways, Zacchaeus probably would have sheepishly given to Jesus and His disciples what they needed, but more than likely dug in his heals even more against people he had grown to hate. Not that Jesus would have been wrong in saying all those things, but judgment as a first response to someone only builds defensive walls. Mercy, on the other hand, doesn’t condone the sin, nor does it need to condemn it because the light of love that shines from mercy always illuminates the truth, even if a person refuses to see it; the contrast love creates is compelling. Zacchaeus certainly saw the contrast, and he repented.

Zacchaeus’ response to God’s love was justice. Justice is a course adjustment back to the right order of things; justice is a course adjustment back to the righteousness of God. We see this justice clearly in the actions of Zacchaeus. Luke tells us that Zacchaeus would give half of his possessions to the poor and he would repay four times all he had cheated from people. So his justice would punch holes in the walls between the poor and the wealthy, and would work to restore right relationships. For this reason, Jesus said salvation came to Zacchaeus’ home, and that Zacchaeus was a true son of Abraham.

Crank that volume.

Don’t miss what Jesus said. The kingdom of God, which is what He created us in His image to dwell with Him forever, must necessarily be just so that relationships can flourish in love; and relationships must flourish in love for the kingdom to remain just. The kingdom of God is righteousness because love and justice reign together in perfect harmony.

It was for the restoration of this kingdom that God made His covenant with Abraham. Through Israel and ultimately the faithfulness of Israel’s representative, Jesus the Christ, God restored His kingdom. And everyone who trusts King Jesus is therefore a true son of Abraham; for Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. In other words, we like Abraham become true kingdom dwellers and therefore walk in righteousness—justice and love--when we simply believe Jesus. And believing Jesus is to trust Him and consequently do what He says. Zacchaeus demonstrated his trust of Jesus in love by his acts of justice, so Jesus rightly called Zacchaeus a true son of Abraham.

Salvation came to Zacchaeus’ home because he entered the kingdom of God by bowing to King Jesus. Because of Jesus’ faithfulness on the cross, Zacchaeus received forgiveness, which is God righting (justifying) Zacchaeus’ life; that is, making the necessary course adjustment of Zacchaeus’ unjust state to a just one. By trusting King Jesus, Zacchaeus then received power to maintain justice in love, which is walking in the kingdom of God. Under the kingship of Jesus, Zacchaeus would be upheld in the kingdom even should he make a mistake—his conscience would be kept clear. And in the end, Zacchaeus will be made perfect and walk without error in the pure righteousness of God’s kingdom forever because the justice and love by which he walked all along proved he had truly entered the kingdom of God in the first place.

This, then, is salvation: forgiveness, walking in justice and love by faith in King Jesus, and culminating in the purity of holiness in love between us and God and everyone else who dwells with us in the kingdom of God, forever. Jesus said salvation came to Zacchaeus’ home. And Jesus said elsewhere that it would come to the homes of everyone who believe Him.

Sadly, there are countless hurting people in the world, hurting because they are caught up in the injustice both within themselves and in the world around them. As with Zacchaeus, they need a hand of mercy extended to them, so that through the light of such love they can understand their plight and see Jesus who has for them the place that God intended for everyone, all along—the place of true justice bonded in love—righteousness—true salvation--the kingdom of God.

What a breathtaking beauty we encounter when we simply crank that volume and listen. Thank you, Scott, for reminding us of this.