Loving the Unlovable

To some it was repugnant, scandalous. To disregard sensible boundaries in the eyes of those completely opposed to it was an outrage. What was this controversial act?

To the commoner and religious elite of the day, Jesus’ dining with Zacchaeus the chief tax collector was beyond the pale. 

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner”  (Luke 19:1-7).

To the commoner, Zacchaeus extorted money through his activities – their money! And to the religious leaders of the day, he was a despicable sinner, a cohort of Rome. They hated Zacchaeus.

In light of this acrimony, Jesus has the audacity to invite Himself to Zacchaeus’ home for a meal. To which Zacchaeus received Him gladly.

The text doesn’t tell us exactly what happened between Jesus and Zacchaeus. We only see the result of their interaction:

Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost”  (Luke 19:8-10).

Zacchaeus is converted and saved, forsaking the material riches in this world for the spiritual riches found in Jesus. What a beautiful thing!

This is simply one of many examples of Jesus loving the unlovable – unlovable not to the Lord, but to some people.

When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus said to “love God” and “love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:37-38). He made no distinction about which people to love.

In our present day who are the “unlovables” as defined by some people? Prison inmates, homeless people, perhaps someone with a completely different political viewpoint. 

Though we may be tempted to label some people as unlovable, and therefore untouchable, may we remember that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

In our present day, loving the so-called unlovable is truly counter-culture and will reflect the love of God. For you and me, God may calling us to help out in a soup kitchen, serve the homeless, do prison ministry, or reach out to someone completely different from ourselves. It’s going to look different for each of us. Yet God calls us to be unique and distinct as His children, reaching out to and loving on the ‘Zacchaeus’ in our lives.

May we follow the Lord where He leads, demonstrating His love to those God is calling us to. For through us, His ministers of reconciliation, He is seeking and saving the lost! Amen.

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