Paul writes it so tactfully, it’s hard to miss his point.
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth bay be silenced, and the whole world may be accountable to God. For “no human being” will be justified in his sight; by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now, apart from the works of the law, the righteous of God has been disclosed….”
Of course, this text was the basis for Luther’s moment of spiritual breakthrough. He could not earn his way to pleasing God any more than what he was already practicing. He had discovered God’s grace through the words of Paul which set into motion a re-forming of the church.
Life has never been the same as the Spirit continues to move.
But, it was this revelation of God’s grace that cause Luther to understand that no matter how hard he tried to gain God’s favor, he failed. There had to be a better paradigm.
It was his profound understanding of God’s grace that lead Luther to spark the work of the reformation and led Luther to stand for the Word of God.
Luther’s story is a parallel in many ways to the story we have today of Zacchaeus. Many of us know the story of Zacchaeus well. Every time I hear the word Zacchaeus my mind goes back to Vacation Bible School – the Zacchaeus song.
Now he may or may not have been short. The Bible just says he was short in stature. And unable to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd and climbs a sycamore tree.
Fact is, Zacchaeus was wealthy. He made his wealth from his fellow Jews working for the gentile oppressors. He collected their taxes and skimmed a little off the top and kept it for himself. That’s how the system worked. Except that Luke mentions that he was the Chief Tax Collector, so he had other do his dirty work, he just oversaw the process.
Certainly, Zacchaeus must have been a spectacle up in the tree. A grown man dressed nicer than anyone else. Just last week, heard Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the publican and that “all who humble themselves will be exulted.” Here’s the example of a wealth individual giving away half of his stuff to get right with the Lord.
Zacchaeus is not a good guy at heart; he is a bad guy who encounters the transformative grace in the person of Jesus. It’s a reflection of the grace of God even upon those who’s intentions are not the best; for the “Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Jesus is concerned about the lost, even to the point where salvation happens instantly. “Today salvation has come…” Jesus says. This is the time of deliverance and forgiveness. Today is the time to open up our eyes and see what God is doing all around us. When even one person is offered a word of forgiveness, hears a word of affirmation, clings to hope that life can be different, things can change for the better, or even resolves to live by a new set of values, there is the Kingdom of God at work.
We also know, there is a bit of justice in this passage that makes us side with the Jews in a misplace trust with Zacchaeus. He was doing the work of the oppressor and making money off his fellow Jews. We would expect Jesus to side with the oppressed, the marginalized, but he doesn’t condemn Zacchaeus, he offers him salvation because he, too, is a child of Abraham.
Jesus must have known what was in Zacchaeus’ heart. The people were not going to forgive Zacchaeus, and therefore, Zacchaeus was caught in an enslaving prejudice that people would not allow him the space to change his ways.
Rick was a boy who never was able to escape his past. He grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and everybody discredited him cause of his family name and the friends he hung out with. He knew what he was doing was wrong. He knew of the hurt he caused others. He knew that the way he was living was not going to end well. But he was also smart enough to realize that he was trapped by the system.
The system that kept his enslaved to his wrong ways and the people whom he had hurt. He needed to have a clean start, but that wasn’t going to happen while he hung around town. He enlisted in the Army after he got out of jail and took life seriously. He worked hard to change his ways when his superior officer took notice and believed in him. He worked his way up and achieved a new value to life. He got married to a wonderful woman and after his service in the army he found work at a car dealership where he worked his way up to become the manager of the service shop.
Life was able to move on for Rick because he escaped the enslaving prejudice of people who believed that Rick couldn’t change.
Over and over in this Gospel story, we hear the whispers of the crowds, “He’s a wealthy tax collector.” The people were impediments to a better life for Zacchaeus. He was the one who needed liberation and it wasn’t until he met Jesus that life got better for him.
This story can be true for so many of us. Many of you can stand up and offer a testimony like Zacchaeus about how life was before Jesus entered your “house.”
Jesus stopped for a single person who found himself standing in the need of grace. “Today” came for Zacchaeus because he wanted to see past his wrongdoings and shed his old ways for a better life. Today can be filled with joy because God is still at work in the church and the world. Reforming to bring about a harvest of righteousness and peace.
Words of God’s grace are still spoken and forgiveness can still be experienced.
Remember on this reformation day to be kind to one another. For we are all still works in process as we understand that even “Today” in Jesus, salvation has come at last even to us.