Recently at the English Clinic, one of the students asked me a lot of questions about Christianity. He said something a lot of Thai people say to us. He said, he is half Christian. He likes Jesus, but still has questions. His big question revolved around forgiveness. He didn’t understand how it was fair that God would forgive everything. He asked, if a former politician became a Christian, does that mean God would forgive everything? There was a sense of horror and injustice as he posed the question, as half the country hates this man with passion.
I wonder if as Christians, we make it seem too easy or cheap for God’s grace, which is a topic of Dietrich Bonheoffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship. God’s grace is priceless, so we should not be flippant and throw around his forgiveness freely. However, God forgives each of us not by anything we have done, but by what he did through Jesus on the cross. We cannot earn his forgiveness. I understood this student’s righteous indignation that someone would have it too easy if they were a bad person, yet I wanted to explain yes God forgives everyone.
Forgiveness is only the beginning. Forgiveness merely opens the path to relationship. The process still needs to include restoration and reconciliation. The amazing thing is that God, the one offended, was the one who initiated reconciliation. I went on to explain to this student that forgiveness fixes the broken relationship we have with God, but we still have consequences for the things we have done wrong. I gave an example which was also the message this last Friday. I spoke about what happens when you look into Jesus eyes from the point of view of Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus’ reputation soiled his name throughout the region. As a chief tax collector, he was equivalent to a modern day mafia extortionist. He did whatever it took to get the taxes for the brutal Roman government and kept some extra for himself. On the day we are to meet Zacchaeus, Jesus is traveling through Jericho (on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus, the most well known person of the day, knew he had to be in Jerusalem for God’s plan to unfold and for him to fulfill his role as Messiah.) Everyone wanted to see Jesus. Zacchaeus wanted to see him as well, so he climbed a tree to get a good view over all the taller people.
When Jesus came close, something unexpected happened. Jesus stopped and looked at Zacchaeus. I wonder what it must have been like to look into Jesus’ eyes. What did Zacchaeus see? Zacchaeus probably saw grace and compassion filling Jesus’ eyes. The strength and confidence that surely covered the face of Jesus was being complemented in his merciful eyes. Romans 8:1 tells us there is therefore no condemnation for those in Jesus. This must have been how Zacchaeus saw the situation. However, what did Jesus see as he looked back? Did Jesus see cowering or confidence, strength or weakness, shame or remorse? I know Jesus could read people well and even knew many times what they were thinking. Beyond the momentary nonverbal communication, I wonder what the crowd, which included religious elite, followers of Jesus and mere onlookers, must have thought. I am sure a large portion of them thought now this dirty rotten scoundrel will get his due. Let’s see Jesus rip into him.
What happened surely shocked even those most conditioned to Jesus’ generously giving mercy. Jesus invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house (and this was not shocking to their mindset. We have seen this in Thailand as well with friends of ours inviting themselves over to hang out or cook together.). They were stunned, because Jesus wanted to spend time with this lowlife. Jesus showed us that people always come ahead of the task. Even as he was on his mission to the cross, he was always on a mission of connecting people with God.
He stopped and showed favor on Zacchaeus, and when all other rejected what was happening as crazy, Zacchaeus took the moment to make things right. He said he would give half of his wealth to the poor and repay those he cheated four times over.
I find it ironic that just two stories earlier Jesus told the disciples how difficult it was for the rich to get into heaven. What seemed impossible in their recent memory was now being shown possible with God. Jesus also told all the onlookers, especially those closely guarding the religious way of Abraham that Zacchaeus was now a son of Abraham. I think of Genesis 12:1-3 and the first promises of God to Abraham now including Zacchaeus, and I am amazed.
Forgiveness is a huge part of Christianity, but we should see it lived out the way Jesus demonstrated. Jesus called people to repentance, and when he forgave people, they changed. Let’s see people the way Jesus did, and not wait for them to clean up on the outside before we are willing to spend time with them. The more we get Jesus to them through our relationship, the more Jesus can work on changing them. Let’s also respond to Jesus the way Zacchaeus did, and be a blessing to people as we restore and reconcile the one’s we have hurt.