This year in our staff devotions, we are reading and reflecting on the Gospels. As such we have started with Matthew. So far we have covered chapters 1-14!
The book of Matthew encourages us to see Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah and to understand the characteristics of His Kingdom. This Kingdom was going to be different. As a result it calls us to be different. It calls us to respond differently. It calls us to live differently.
In his sermon on the mount, Jesus calls his disciples to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness’. The Bible defines righteousness as “the way things ought to be”. We pray for a world where things are ‘the way they ought to be’; governed by God’s rule of love, justice, mercy, peace and hope. It is easy for us to be discouraged in our faith, and to be despondent about the future of the world.
As we pray for this kingdom to come in all its fullness, we are compelled to work in partnership with God to see that this kingdom becomes a reality in our world. Jesus, who came to establish the Kingdom of God, invites us not only into a personal relationship with him but into a partnership with him in this ‘kingdom project’.
However, how do we do this? I find the story of Zacchaeus, as told in Luke’s gospel, a deeply personal and helpful one.
‘Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.’
Here is a man who wants to see Jesus but, because of the crowd, cannot. So many times we have obstacles in our way when we want to see Jesus. Who might be ‘the crowd’ for you? Might my spiritual view be limited? What distractions, perceptions or hurdles lie in our way and block our view of seeing Him and others more clearly?
‘So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.’
As I read this line, I am struck by the lengths that Zacchaeus goes to, to get a new perspective. What effort am I willing to put in to see things afresh or understand things anew? What barriers am I prepared to overcome? How prepared are we to wait in an unfamiliar place, trusting that Jesus will come our way?
‘When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.’
The God who longs to be close with His creation wants us to welcome Him into our most intimate, private spaces. Am I willing to let my creator into every area of my life? Is there any part that I consider off limits? Do I respond to God’s call immediately and with gladness in my soul?
‘All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner’?”’
Once again, the crowd play a role of discouragement and hindrance in this story. They question Jesus’ intention and remind Zacchaeus of his lowly, sinful status. They mutter in frustration against a Lord who does not conform to their expectations. Are there times when we play judge and jury, preventing God’s grace and mercy to extend to those we think are undeserving? How do I respond when God moves beyond my limited expectations?
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Zacchaeus responds to his Lord with an incredible declaration of repentance and generosity; with abundant compensation for the people he has harmed. It is only as we acknowledge the full extent of our sin that we can start to grasp the full measure of God’s grace and mercy lavished upon us.
‘Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”’
The use of the word lost here, ‘apollymi’ in Greek, means devastated or ruined, broken beyond repair. You can never be too wounded for Jesus to seek you out and save what you thought was lost. Don’t let our own limited view or fear of others be a hindrance to God’s saving work.
And so, during these challenging times, when we might despair about the state of the world; be judgmental in what we think should be done; be impatient for God’s Kingdom to come; God’s Word reminds us that nothing is beyond His rule or salvation. Let us be faithful in continuing to seek after God and His Kingdom, in our own lives and in the life of this school community and in doing so, may we be a place of hope and mercy for others.