It’s the beginning of March! Spring is around the corner and is even showing up in some places. How are your New Year’s resolutions coming along? “Well Tammy, why would you bring up something like that?!? The past is the past and we will just leave those there, ok?”
We all have habits and choices needing
adjustment elimination. There is something about a new year, a changing season, even a new week, which makes us feel hopeful for new behaviors and outcomes. They offer us endless opportunities to press the restart button.
This Wednesday (March 6) the season of Lent begins. For the 6 weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter/Resurrection Sunday, many Christians will engage in some type of intentional habit changing activity in an effort to focus more on God, to confess and repent of sinful, destructive behaviors and attitudes, to be more loving, and maybe be more “Christ-like.” Some people give up all, or some specific, food (fasting); some give up television, social media or secular radio; some make the same promises they did for their New Year’s resolutions. Yet giving something up is only the first step. Something else, something holy, needs to fill the void left in our day: perhaps we spend the time in prayer, read Scripture, and/or serve in a volunteer capacity in some way.
What should you do? What does God require? Where do we start? I think I can help you with the answer to these questions through a story with which you may already be familiar.
Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way. When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man[a came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:1-10 NLT
So basically one of the most despised people of this community wanted to get a look at this Jesus person everyone was making such a fuss over. There is no indication in the narrative that Zacchaeus called out to Jesus or that anyone introduced Zacchaeus to Jesus in anyway. Yet here we have Jesus calling out to Zacchaeus BY NAME. Not only that, Jesus invites Himself into Zacchaeus’ personal space. In this religious culture where “holy” people do not go into, interact with, or touch “unclean” places, people, or things, Jesus—God Incarnate— specifically enters the home of the worst of the worst. The only other conversation between Jesus and Zacchaeus the author thought was notable enough to include was Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus and Jesus’ subsequent promise. Without any apparent prompting or commands or requests for Zacchaeus to repent or anything, he takes it upon himself to change certain things about his life in the presence of the Lord. He looked at his life and all he had acquired and realized none of it was more valuable than salvation. He was compelled to make things right.
What do you think would happen if Jesus suddenly showed up in your house? Is there anything you have or do which you would suddenly want to get rid of or make right? Having Jesus sit in our home, seeing how we live, would remove all our pretenses. Suddenly, like Zacchaeus, we would see our excuses and justifications for what they really are. Suddenly we would realize that having popularity, approval, possessions, and being the master of our destiny pales in comparison to the salvation which Jesus holds.
Maybe I’m being naive. But something tells me that if we really seek the presence of Jesus this Lenten season, we already know what we need to do differently, what we need to subtract from and what we need to add to our lives. Fasting gives us an opportunity to be really intentional about seeking the presence of God above all other distractions. Let us make seeking the presence of Jesus our focus this Lenten season.