In the Red
So many times in Scripture people poke and prod at Jesus, trying to trap him in one way or another. “What is the greatest commandment? Who is my neighbor? Who gave you this authority? Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Because I’m such a conversation nerd, I’ve always been fascinated by Jesus’s actual words. In many versions, Jesus words are printed in red ink. We have precious few of his words recorded in Scripture, despite the monumental surplus of words about Jesus. For many years, I was impressed because he got the best of people despite their malice. After all, Jesus is Jesus; swatting aside the pesky naysayers with conversation was no big deal to him.
Lately, however, I’ve changed my mind about why I’m impressed with the words of Jesus. Now, when I read the words of Jesus, I’m awed by his laser focus. He refuses to get off-topic—ever. I always come back to his words after sharing a meal with Zacchaeus.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 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.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10, emphasis added)
From these words, we see Jesus’s love for Zacchaeus and we see his excitement about the big event: salvation. This is Jesus’s happy dance. He just throws down the ball and says, “Score!” As I read Jesus’s words throughout the entirety of Scripture, everything he says reflects that same purpose: salvation.
When the throngs of people are after Jesus for a wide menagerie of reasons, even when he is at death’s door, Jesus is laser focused on what he wants to happen: salvation. Jesus’s conversation always reflect that. Always. His words are not chosen to get the best of people, but to point to the Father’s love and redemption. Even his harshest words, spoken to the Pharisees whom he calls a brood of vipers, are said out of love and hope that his hearers would wake up and discover the salvation he offered.
So what about our conversations? Just like Jesus’s interactions, our conversations reflect who we are and what we think about others. Will we let Jesus inspire us to focus on what we want for a relationship, rather than what we want to defend? I know, I know, Jesus was perfect; we are not. That’s not tweet-worthy; we are all well aware. But I still have to ask the question. Will we be so focused on showing Christ to the world, that it changes what we think about others and changes the very words we choose during the most difficult of times, and with the most difficult people?
I’m praying this passage from James for all of us today:
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. (James 1:19-26, emphasis added)