“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” — Luke 19:10 ESV
Christ says this while passing through Jericho, on his way to Jerusalem for the Triumphal Entry that launched a week that ended with our Lord’s death on the cross for our sins. A crowd gathered, and a wee little man climbed a tree to see him. Yes, Jesus said this at the end of his response to the Good Proper Christians, er Jews, who grumbled at Jesus for going to a sinner’s house.
Tax collectors like Zacchaeus were despised as the worst of sinners, collaborators with Israel’s enemies with a reputation for earning their living by overcharging people and keeping the extra “tax.” I.E. they defrauded the people. Knowing this, inspired by Christ’s gracious invitation, in verse 8, Zacchaeus announced (at a banquet held in his home in Christ’s honor is implied) “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
“And Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’”
This man, identified with Israel’s enemies, despised as a sinner hardened beyond redemption, repented when graciously showed kindness. Not when beat over the head with “you shall not steal,” etc. Not when we went out of our way to make his life harder. When the Lord graciously reached out to him, gave him a new hope. The holy spirit moved him to the act of repentance he already well knew. Why hadn’t he before? Before Christ came into his life, he likely had no hope of any way out of the life path he had chosen.
Interestingly, Christ follows this up with the parable of the Minas, a rather meaty piece. Context suggests it is a different topic raised by different concerns, but it does reaffirm that, while Christ came to save the lost, judgment day will not go well for Christ’s enemies if they continue to refuse to repent and continue to reject Christ’s reign over their lives–to walk in self-idolatry, the desire to be our own god, as it has been ever since the garden of Eden.
The fate awaiting those who don’t repent ought to inspire us, but we don’t know others’ hearts. The overflow from the mouth can be revealing, but people’s behavior can be misleading. We may not know if a soul is hardened against God and bent on being a self-defining, self-exalting determiner of what is true and right and wrong for themselves, following a dark road out of a hopeless despair of ever being able to change, or if they are being led astray by the world’s lies while actively seeking the reconciliation and peace with God, others, and ourselves that we know is truly found only in Christ.
Let’s give the lost the benefit of the doubt and graciously reach out. Let’s at least pray and be open to being asked to extend a gracious invitation to the lost on the Lord’s behalf.
Lord, open our hearts to the possibility of being used to reach your enemies. Open our eyes to opportunities to show kindness and mercy to the lost, and through this bring them hope and to show them the way into your light of truth gently and lovingly. Give us courage, wisdom, and the words that person needs to hear at that moment. Thank you for the work you are doing in our lives. Thank you for your mercy and kindness, the hope you bring. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.