Summary: Jesus: Friend of Sinners, Part 7 of 7.
LOVING PEOPLE AND USING THINGS (LK. 19:1-10)
One of the greatest novels written, as well as my favorite Broadway musical, is Les Miserables, the story of Jean Valjean’s transformation from an uncaring and unfeeling man into a kind, noble, generous, sacrificial, and selfless man late in his life. He provided jobs to the poor, gave aid to the needy, and rescued kids off the streets in famine-stricken 19th century France, but unknown to the grateful town folks, their benefactor used to be a hardened criminal. As a 25-year-old young man he stole bread to feed his sister’s seven children and was immediately sentenced to five years of imprisonment for the crime. He considered the punishment extreme for the crime he committed, so he attempted to escape, as many as six times. The law was merciless. His sentence was eventually lengthened to 19 years, and by the time he was released, he was cold, vengeful, and hateful. He hated God, society, and the authorities for the injustices he bored.
Jean Valjean’s transformation began when he sought refuge at a church from the cold, harsh night after released from prison. Instead of thanking the priest who took him in, he repaid his host by stealing the silver plates and ladle in the church. Unfortunately, law enforcers arrested the suspiciously behaving man out on the street, found the expensive silverware on him, and brought him before the old priest for questioning.
However, the old priest did not turn Jean Valjean in; instead the priest surprised the police, dismayed the church caretakers, and changed Jean’s life forever by saying that the silverware was given Jean Valjean, not stolen, and even chided Jean Valjean for forgetting to take with him the silver candlesticks, which were worth two hundred francs – a lot of money at that time. After thanking the departing policemen, the priest sent Jean Valjean on his way with the precious candlesticks and these loving words: “My friend, before you go away, here are your candlesticks; take them. Now go in peace. By the way, my friend, when you come again, you need not come through the garden. You can always come in and go out by the front door. It is closed only with a latch, day or night. Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use the silver to become an honest man. Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying from you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”
Jean Valjean cried for the first time in 19 years and disappeared into the night into an illustrious legacy of good works.
The transformation of Zacchaeus, who made his riches exacting money from his fellow countrymen, was a sight to behold. Zacchaeus was not just your average tax-gatherer like Matthew (Luke 5:27-28); he was the chief. If other tax-gatherers were disliked or despised, Zacchaeus was hated; if tax collection was profitable or lucrative, Zacchaeus made obscene money and he was filthy rich, one might add; and if the job did not make him notorious or odious, his height made him famous. He was the talk, the joke, and the scapegoat of Jericho residents.