By Bill Mefford
As I shared last week, I am praying each day of Lent for the salvation of donald trump. It is not difficult and it does not require a lot of time, though perhaps it should. My prayers do not seem to be working from my vantage point at least.
I also shared last week that one passage from Scripture that comes to mind when I am praying is that of the rich young ruler, which is found in every gospel. There is another that follows closely behind; the story of Zacchaeus which is found only in Luke's gospel.
Zacchaeus is the tax collector who, supposedly because he is so small in stature, is forced to climb a tree when Jesus came to his town of Jericho. Zacchaeus was not a popular guy in town, not just because he was a tax collector, but because he was a scoundrel who cheated people. While we will get to Zacchaeus' powerful response to Jesus in a minute it should be said that Jesus immediately initiated contact with Zacchaeus by inviting himself to his house to eat; something that undoubtedly riled many of his followers as well as the suspicious religious leaders who were not thrilled to see Jesus eagerly pursuing relationship with a known sinner and exploiter of the Jewish people.
This is an important part of this story that all too easily gets skipped over. It messes up the narrative of liberals and liberationists, like myself, who believe that Jesus had and has a preference for the poor. If this is true (and I believe it is), then why Is Jesus being so intentional about reaching out to such a wealthy dude like Zacchaeus? I want to suggest we keep two things in mind here. One is that Jesus' preference for the poor is no greater than Jesus' desire for all people to be saved. These are not adversarial realities. Justice for the poor and salvation for the affluent and powerful are not just parallel events. Like this story shows, they are integrally connected; rich people cannot be saved outside of engaging in justice for and with the poor (as the rich young ruler learned the hard way). Jesus could easily have been planning on making the same demands on Zacchaeus as he did on the rich young ruler, but Zacchaeus beat him to the punch; he repented too quickly!
Secondly, there is a sense that Zacchaeus is a poor man; poor in relationships. Jesus lives on the margins and repeatedly throughout his ministry Jesus seeks those who live on the margins as well when he enters a new place and it is from there that he makes his impact (see John 4 and the woman at the well for another similar story).
So, Jesus seeks out Zacchaeus and Zacchaeus' reaction is stunning simply because Zacchaeus himself is so stunned that Jesus has chosen him! Even before Jesus comes to his home, even before Jesus and Zacchaeus sit down to eat, Zacchaeus responds overwhelmingly to the gift of Jesus' chosenness. He promises to give away half of his possessions and to pay back all he has defrauded four times what he owes them. That, my friend, is repentance!
Zacchaeus is so filled with joy about being chosen by Jesus that he goes far beyond what the Old Testament requires of him (Leviticus 6:5 only demands that the original value plus one-fifth of its value be restored) and he goes even further by volunteering to give away half of his possessions. This scene is a clear illustration of a man so thankful to know Jesus, the Messiah of the world, that his possessions mean virtually nothing to him anymore. It is a powerful and moving picture.
It is also incredibly convicting for affluent Christians which is why, like the rich young ruler, I can count on two fingers the number of times in my life I heard this preached from a pulpit.
North American Christians do NOT want to hear such a model of salvation. Hell, it is deeply troublesome to me when I think about how truly happy I am to keep my stuff and have a little bit of Jesus on the side.
But this goes further than just giving up our possessions. This is about making restoration to those we have wronged and that is increasingly challenging in a globalized world where what we do impacts so many people, especially when what we do as citizens in the most powerful and most affluent nation in the history of the world.
Think, for example, that as the economy continues to grow and the stock market continues to explode. Many of us are grateful because our retirement funds are increasingly expanding as well. But what do we do if our mutual funds are made up of stocks in companies incarcerate people for profit thereby ensuring that we make money when people (especially people of color) are imprisoned for long periods of time. Or what do we do if we are invested in companies that sell bulldozers to Israel which then uses them to tear down Palestinian homes so that they can build illegal settlements? Or what do we do if we are invested in companies that employ workers overseas in sweat shops for pennies an hour? Are we so happy that Jesus has chosen to dine with us that we are willing not just to give to ministries that serve impacted communities whose suffering we are profiting from (which is the preferred way to deal with injustice by North American Christians), but rather, will we divest ourselves of that stock and take whatever proceeds we made and give to those impacted communities and then also use our political power to work to ensure that those companies stop the injustices they are committing?
In other words, are we as happy to see Jesus as Zacchaeus was?
So, when I pray for donald trump to be saved you can bet your ass I am seeing visions of Zacchaeus and his response to welcoming Jesus. Of course, none of us know what financial holdings trump has since he has chosen to not make them available to the public (after saying he would). But we do know quite a number of people her has wronged and needs to make some kind of restoration to. Here is a short list that comes immediately to mind:
- Hillary Clinton
- His 19 or so accusers of sexual assault
- Stormy Daniels
- The polish workers he hired and never paid
- The thousands of other workers he has never paid in his life
- The thousands of immigrants he has deported and separated from their families
- The reporter with the physical handicap
- The NFL football players he called sons of bitches
- Muslims, whom he has repeatedly insulted and instituted racial policies against
- And countless others
Yes, it is indeed a long list. All of our lists are long. This is why, in our globalized world, the story of Zacchaeus is so rarely preached on. But it should be. We all have work to do.
But today I pray for donald trump; that he would be so excited that Jesus has chosen to dine with him that he would immediately the long, humbling, and excruciating work of making amends to those he has wronged.
Let the work begin sooner than later.
And let the Kingdom come.