Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saving the World

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Luke 19:1-10

The Messiah is the one who “seeks and saves the lost.”

On my Facebook page I have a favorite quotation from H. Richard Niebuhr. He writes, “By Jesus Christ people have been and are empowered to become children of God—not as those who are saved out of a perishing world, but as those who know that the world is being saved.”

But what does it mean, to be saved?

It occurred to me, as I looked at that quotation and thought about the “friends of friends” who would see it, that many would have a very limited understanding of Christian faith. They would assume, I think, that Jesus is called the Savior because he saves us from eternal damnation in hell.

But that’s not what Niebuhr means. And it’s not what we see in the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus.

Salvation is about finding, healing, and liberating.

We do not like to think of ourselves as being lost. (I don’t like to think of myself as being lost. “I have a great sense of direction,” I will tell you. And I don’t get lost.) But that is really just more evidence of how lost we are. Sometimes we don’t notice that we have lost our way because we have lost any sense of where the path really is. But the truth is that we are lost more frequently and more seriously than we like to admit. And the one constant in our lives is that there is One who seeks us, and finds us, and calls us home.

The second meaning of salvation is healing and wholeness. Much of the time we are broken and hurting. That is not the whole story. We are also people of remarkable strength and resilience. Our brokenness and our strength are within us at the same time. But we deny the brokenness at our peril. We cannot live authentically unless we admit our faults and failings.

Finally, salvation is about being liberated and set free. To be saved is to live into the freedom of God’s grace. In the first century, the Emperor was called “the Savior,” because he was the one who brought “freedom” to the people. When Jesus claimed that title for himself, and the early church proclaimed that message, they were making a political statement about the true meaning of freedom and liberation.

When Niebuhr says that Christians are “those who know that the world is being saved.” He is talking about the love of God in Christ, finding, healing and liberating the world. Christians are not those who believe that they are being rescued, while the rest of the world is going to hell. They are those who know that God’s saving work is all around us.

No comments:

Post a Comment