The Savior We Need by Rev. Richard Hasselbach
Terry spent 20 years living what many people would call a perfect life. Married to a man she loved, she had a great job and lived in a beautiful West Coast city. Although Terry’s mother and siblings lived back East, they were close to one another. She even had a great dog. What more could you want?
Then, in a matter of months, Terry’s life began to unravel. She discovered that her husband was unfaithful; in the ensuing divorce, she lost her home and many of her friends: in fact, she lost everything but the dog. While trying to rebuild her life Terry’s mother was diagnosed with stage-four cancer and so, leaving her golden retriever behind, she moved to New England and nursed her mom until she died. Not long after that, Terry’s only brother lost his battle with lung cancer.
“I hated God.” Terry said, “I hated him for what he took from me; I hated him for what he allowed; II hated him for who he was.” She wasn’t the first to be disappointed by God, and she won’t be the last.
The 19th Chapter of Luke’s Gospel starts with the story of Zacchaeus, the “chief tax collector” of Jericho, a man short of stature and short on scruples. He was a traitor to his own people who collected revenue for the hated Romans, and he overtaxed his neighbors for personal gain, he was a thief. Small wonder he was shunned by decent people!
Jesus didn’t shun him, though: seeing Zacchaeus in a sycamore tree, which the tax collector climbed to be able to see Jesus better, Jesus spoke to him: “Come down, Zacchaeus, I must eat with you tonight.” All who saw this encounter grumbled, presumably even Jesus’ disciples: the Messiah should condemn people like Zaccheus; Jesus forgave and restored him. This is no chance meeting, though, it is divinely ordained. What is really happening here is the rescue of a child of God: “If I’ve defrauded anyone, I repay them fourfold.” the transformed man says, “Everything I’ve stolen, I give back.” Lord tells Zacchaeus:. “Today salvation has come to your house,” Jesus came not to condemn but to give life.
Knowing their false expectations, Jesus told the Parable of the Mina: A nobleman went to a far-away land to be appointed king. Before leaving he gave each of his servants a mina (worth about $15,000) instructing them to put the money to work for him. While he was gone, a delegation from his land sent word that they didn’t want him back as their king.
Upon his return, the man, now the King, settled accounts. He first asked his servants what return they made on his money. The King rewarded his productive servants with vastly more money and responsibility while taking everything from the unproductive servant who hid his mina out of fear. Jesus concluded the story: “Those who have will be given more. But those who don't have, even what they had will be taken away from them.” Next, the King summons the ones who opposed his reign and has them executed.
The challenging message here is that faith isn’t given to us solely for our own salvation, we must earn dividends on the gift of faith. The Lord expects us to seek the lost and lead them home, as he did. If we hide our faith in a napkin, we are no better than the unproductive servant of the parable. We are to “bear fruit that lasts:” It’s a matter of eternal life and death.
Next, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, not a very majestic animal. Earthly kings ride horses. Jesus’ arrival in meekness and humility makes it clear: he won’t be the kind of king people are expecting. Jesus is about his father’s business, not the crowd’s! He has come to show us God’s glory and to give us God’s own peace. He will do that on the cross.
When the City finally comes into full view, Jesus weeps: If only it had recognized its divine visitation; Jerusalem couldn't accept Jesus because it expected such a different messiah. It wanted a messiah who would defeat Israel’s great enemy, Rome. Far from conquering Rome, soon Jesus would be arrested, brutalized, and put to death on a Roman cross. Rejected by his own people, abandoned by most of his friends, seemingly forsaken even by God, he died under a mocking banner Ironically proclaiming the truth: “This is the king of the Jews.” On the cross, Jesus defeated humanity’s great enemy, death. Jesus’ blood flowing from the cross reveals God’s abundant love for his broken creation. Death and life engaged in a cosmic struggle on Calvary. Life won!
Our challenge is to trust in our Crucified God when things go wrong, and they will. God doesn’t protect us from suffering and death, as he didn’t protect Jesus; instead, he infuses all with grace, hope, and opportunity. Tragedy, pain, and death touch our lives only when God sees that he can transform them into something of enduring value. In Christ, every loss, no matter how profound, is the gateway to abundant life.
While Terry struggled to put the pieces of her life back together, she met Christians who loved her like a sister; who invited her to be a part of their lives. They had no easy answers for her, facile answers to life’s difficult questions don’t exist. They cared about her, though, and were kind to her. Through their hospitality she gradually came back to God and began to see his hand in her life: protecting her, guiding her, growing her. She understood how blessed she had been, even in hard times. Through the lens of faith, she could better accept her own suffering knowing that “God writes straight with crooked lines.” When Terry’s next sister was diagnosed with cancer, she was able to pray: “Lord, I promise I won't get angry with you, just help me through this,” and he did.
God helped Terry just as he will help us when we are challenged by the painful events of our lives: he has but one expectation, as we have been helped, so must we help others.