Payback Time

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died. 29 This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.  (Genesis 9:28-10:1)
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  (Luke 19:1-10)
After Noah curses Ham for acting sinfully against him, the nations of the earth become divided. Genesis 10 is known as ‘the table of nations’ because it describes the family trees of Shem (the ancestor of the Jews and Arabs), of Ham (the ancestor of the Canaanites and Africans) and of Japheth (the ancestor of the Europeans). As they scatter across the face of the earth, they become increasingly fragmented. Soon they start waging war against each other.

We saw yesterday that Jesus reconciles the nations to one another. We are no longer citizens of warring nations. We have become citizens of heaven, for whom national divisions take firm second place to Christian unity. The Apostle Paul insists on this in Galatians 3:28. If we are united with Jesus by faith, then we are united with one another through that union with Jesus. The divisions of race and gender and social status are all swept away.

Christians from the white majority can often struggle to understand why Christians from ethnic minorities can’t just accept this and move on. If we are all united in Jesus Christ, they ask, then what’s the point of raking up the past? Why can’t we just fix our eyes on Jesus and get busy enjoying being part of his new humanity together?

That’s why Luke’s account of the conversion of the tax collector Zacchaeus is so helpful to us today. He is a sinner with a backstory of swindling his neighbours. When he is called down from the sycamore tree by Jesus, he is reconciled to God and he might have expected his neighbours to extend their own forgiveness to him quickly too. They needed to so, and Jesus challenged them strongly about their unforgiveness, but note the way that Zacchaeus patiently listens to their bad experiences of him in the past. He stands up and declares that it is payback time. Not a moment for them to take revenge on their former tax collector, but a moment for him to make restitution for the ways in which he wronged them in the past. When we listen to other people’s experiences, when we extend a heartfelt apology and when we pledge to do all we can to undo the lingering effects of those past wrongdoings, we make it easier for people to forgive. In the Body of Christ, the strong stoop down to serve the weak. Those who are part of the dominant, majority culture listen to their brothers and sisters and become champions of change.
1)   Take a moment to think about your group of close friends. How many of them are of different ethnic backgrounds to you? How can we be proactive in forming friendships which cross racial divides through the Gospel?

2)   How much have you truly listened to life as it is experienced by your friends from different ethnic backgrounds? How much do you understand what it is like to be part of both majority and minority ethnic culture?

3)   How can we follow the lead of Zacchaeus in making restitution and becoming champions of change – both in our church and in our wider culture?
Father God, I confess that we seem to talk a lot as Christians about repentance but very little about restitution. I feel challenged by the way that Zacchaeus was proactive in seeking help people to overcome many past wrongs. Help me to listen to the people around me and to do all that I can to understand the world from their eyes. Help me to be an agent of change and reconciliation between people from different racial backgrounds. Amen.
If you have time, consider carrying on your conversation with God using one of our helpful Prayer Pathways.
Today’s Everyday Devotions have also inspired a devotional video that you can watch on our YouTube channel.
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