Repentance is turning around. A 180-degree turn to God’s Grace.
But is all repentance identical? Does it matter whether you’re poor or rich? Compare these two stories.
The Prodigal Son of Jesus’ Parable of the Loving Father (Luke 15) makes a relatively clear, obvious Choice. He cashes in his inheritance, then quickly blows through all his money. He finds himself abjectly poor and powerless. Hungry and humiliated, the Prodigal goes to work outside his class and caste, and eats pig slop to stay alive. Then he makes a Choice to head for home. He runs, walks, crawls, and finally falls back into his Loving Father’s arms. In Grace, his Loving Father takes him in.
We know that one. The moral of the story is to choose the Grace that is freely available to those who have nothing.
Then there’s Zacchaeus.
Jesus entered and walked through Jericho. There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.
When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.” Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”
Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.”
Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”
Luke 19 (The Message)
Children sing in church that Zacchaeus was a “wee little man”. But his wasn’t a children’s story. He held a powerful franchise to collect taxes from the native population- his people- to support the Roman imperial occupation. He took a cut, and made the middle rungs of a colonial system work for him. Power enabling his greed, he had become rich by exploiting his own.
Then Jesus calls to him. Shocked, mere words will not atone for his sins. Zacchaeus doesn’t just say the right thing: he does the amazing thing.
Discovered and called, Zacchaeus sacrifices a lot of money to be reconciled. The Roman bosses must have been dumbfounded, and we read that his own people resented him for it. But Jesus loved it, and that’s what mattered to Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus makes a big Choice: it’s a dramatic turnaround. Now use your imagination to envision America’s 1% doing the same. What would look like if the powerful divested themselves of stolen intergenerational wealth, to be reconciled to the least of these? And for those of us on the middle rungs of the system, what should we do?
Whether we’re rich, or only relatively rich, we Choose to turn around in response to Grace. What will you give to be reconciled to God?