Summary: Friend of Sinners, Pt. 7 (Final)
LOVING PEOPLE AND USING THINGS (LUKE 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 later in 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 attempted to escape, as many as six times, and his sentence was eventually lengthened to 19 years. 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 his release 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 with 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 and a story to be told. 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.
However, Jesus had a different opinion and did the unthinkable. He saved the unpopular, controversial transgressor. Did Jesus not know how Zacchaeus make his money, how people hated him and how sweet it was to laugh at his height, his misfortune or his exclusion? So why did Jesus save a person like Zacchaeus? How is salvation still possible for a dirty rotten scoundrel?
The Lord Knows the Thoughts of Sinners
19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." (Luke 19:1-5)
Two traveling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family. The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in the mansion’s guest room. Instead the angels were given a space in the cold basement. As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it. When the younger angel asked why, the older angel replied, “Thing aren’t always what they seem.”
The next night the pair came to rest at the house of a very poor, but very hospitable farmer and his wife. After sharing what little food they had the couple let the angels sleep in their bed where they could have a good night’s rest. When the sun came up the next morning the angels found the farmer and his wife in tears. Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole income, lay dead in the field.