Doing the Right Thing
As I have mentioned before, my seven-year-old son absolutely loves President Jimmy Carter, so when we had the opportunity to hear President Carter teach a Bible class at his home church in Plains, Georgia, we jumped at the chance. However, this was no ordinary opportunity. It was an extra-special Sunday. Ambassador Andrew Young was also going to be present to co-teach the class with President Carter. To say we were excited is an understatement.
As class time started, all ears were attentively listening to the message being presented. At one point, Ambassador Young began telling about a conversation that had taken place between the two men during President Carter’s time in office. It came about as the result of an unpopular decision the former president was making. In this conversation, Ambassador Young pointed out to the president that the decision would certainly not get him re-elected. To which President Carter responded that his actions were not about getting re-elected but about doing the right thing.
Doing the right thing. Such simple words with such monumental meaning.
This is one of the big life lessons that seems to follow us throughout all of life. It isn’t just one we learn as a kid and set aside, but we should carry it far into adulthood as well. Doing the right thing. And more importantly, doing the right thing no matter what—no matter who is looking, no matter who will agree with us, no matter what the outcome might be. Our choices in life should always be guided by the example that Jesus places before us.
In the story of Zacchaeus, we see two clear examples of what it looks like to push back against accepted culture and instead do what is right. The first of these examples comes from Jesus himself. As Jesus passes through Jericho amongst a crowd of people, he notices Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector who is a hated man of questionable character, up in a tree hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Jesus beckons Zacchaeus to come down from the tree, because as Jesus tells him, “I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). Through this exchange, Jesus intentionally invites Zacchaeus into relationship with him. And as is the pattern throughout the New Testament, the bystanders are upset by the actions of Jesus. Despite this, Jesus doesn’t allow the accepted cultural norms to guide his actions. Jesus does not condemn Zacchaeus for who he has been. Instead, he looks ahead to who Zacchaeus could be and embraces that possibility. He proclaims, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus demonstrates hopefulness and love through his actions toward Zacchaeus.
As a result, we see the second example. Jesus’s actions impact Zacchaeus tremendously. Zacchaeus is voluntarily moved toward a pursuit of righteousness. He pushes away from the expected behaviors that are indicative of someone in the role of chief tax collector and instead seeks to make things right. In the giving away of possessions and the returning of money, four times over, Zacchaeus acknowledges his transgressions and desires to correct them regardless of the outcome amongst his small circle of friends, officials, and others who are drawn to his position of wealth. Zacchaeus seeks to do the right thing.
When I reflect on the story of Zacchaeus, I often consider what it means to pursue righteousness in my own life in a completely God-honoring way. Am I able to do this wholeheartedly? Or do I find myself allowing emotional roadblocks (e.g., fear, uncertainty, pride, insensitivity) to stand in the way? Am I able to disregard the angry bystanders like Jesus did, and can I confess my own shortcomings as I seek to do better like Zacchaeus? As we daily walk in and out of situations where we are presented with the opportunity to do the right thing, we must release our own obstacles and make space for the love of Christ and his example to shine through our words and actions without hindrance (i.e., no matter what). To do otherwise would be wrong (Col. 3:17; Jas. 4:17).
The words of Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis still echo clearly in my mind. In her keynote address at Summit 2017, she said, “God does not put the responsibility of transforming the world on the back of the oppressed.” In other words, it isn’t enough to stand by and be silent—literally or figuratively. It is up to each and every one of us as Christians to both recognize and act on moments of injustice in order to do the right thing. In order to show clearly who God calls us to be. Because, once again, to do otherwise would be wrong (Jas. 4:17).
A few weeks ago, an African-American member of my church shared a difficult story with me. She told me about a shopping trip she made to a clothing store with some of her friends who were all white. She was at the front of the checkout line, paid for her merchandise, and waited for the others. As they were getting ready to leave, the store clerk stopped the African-American woman and asked to check her bags. While this went on, the other women stood by silently and waited. They said nothing to the store clerk or management to question why this woman had been pointedly stopped. They did, however, ask the African-American woman what she had done wrong.
Reflect on that for a moment.
They asked her what she had done wrong.
Ultimately, yes, the actions of the clerk bothered her, but the actions and inactions of her “friends” truly wounded her.
It’s about doing the right thing. Such simple words with such monumental meaning.