10-26-16 - Bad Company

Zacchaeus may have been happy to hear Jesus say he was coming to his house – but no one else thought it a good move. Luke tells us, “All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’”

A sinner. It’s well and good to talk about the Kingdom of God and loving your neighbor as yourself, not to mention your enemies – but to actually go to the home of one of society’s most notorious villains? That’s a political third-rail move, guaranteed to get you in trouble with your followers. In our time, it might be working with sex offenders or drug lords to stop cycles of addiction and violence. Many people can see no humanity in people who abuse others, even if many who abuse are also victims. If you can categorize someone as an abuser, you can stop thinking of her as a person.

I believe Jesus stood with persons victimized, condemned the action and the damage caused – and also reached out to perpetrators. Jesus wasn’t interested in popularity – he was interested in the mission of God to reclaim and restore all humanity to wholeness. All humanity – even those who do their worst.

Jesus had a way of seeing past a person’s outward traits – illness, possession, greed, even violence. He did not confuse people with their diseases or disorders. Rather, he aligned himself with the core self within that person, and directed the power that made the universe to a person’s inner self, weak as it may have been. He saw who Zacchaeus was, apart from all the wickedness he perpetrated. He saw a broken child of God, not just an “extortioner” or a “sinner.”

He invites us to do no less. Sometimes that inner self is hard to find. In people who are far gone on the path of addiction, for instance, the core self may be very, very faint. Yet we can trust that it is there, because this person is a child of God. And we are called to offer our strength and our will and our love to that core self – not to the outer behavior, but to the inner self. In Christ, no one is beyond repair, not Zacchaeus, not anyone, unless they absolutely choose to be.

Can you think of someone who seems beyond redemption, who is so destructive to herself or others, it’s hard to see any humanity? Might be someone you know of; might be a category you’ve lumped a whole lot of people into. In prayer today, can you hold that person or group in God’s light for a few moments, asking God to rescue them from who they are becoming? To restore them to who they truly are?

Is God calling you to take action to reach out to such a person? It can be like extending your hand to an angry dog – you might get nipped at. Maybe Jesus says, "Do it anyway."

The baptismal covenant Episcopalians affirm asks, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” We can’t respect someone’s dignity if we lump them into a group of others – saints or sinners. We need the courage to see each person on their own terms.

The answer to that question is, “I will, with God’s help.” God’s help is there for us when we’re at our worst, and God’s help is here for us to help others become their best.

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