For thousands of years, people related to God through the law. They concocted over 600 commandments in order to foster and maintain a relationship with the Father but could not fully relate to the Father. In other words, they made sacrifices for love, to be in the “right place” with God.
When I think of extravagant love in the Bible that expresses itself over the limitations of the law, I think of the story of Zacchaeus’s interaction with love personified in the person of Jesus.
Zacchaeus was a wealthy chief tax collector living in the city of Jericho. The Romans, in their rule, appointed local citizens to rule and collect taxes on behalf of Rome. Zacchaeus was despised as a corrupt traitor (working for the Roman empire instead of the Jewish community) and was cut off from the people of God. As Jesus comes through the city, he draws a heavy crowd. Zacchaeus, being a short guy (vertically challenged), decides to climb up a sycamore tree to see this proposed Messiah that everyone is talking about. Jesus notices him and invites himself to Zacchaeus’s house much to Zacchaeus’s infinite delight.
We don’t know what was said between Jesus and Zacchaeus, but we do know the result. When Zacchaeus looked into the eyes of love, when he heard his name being called out in love, and when he encountered love personified, he couldn’t help but commit his life to an extravagant response. “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” (Luke 19:8 ESV).
The extravagance of this proclamation is significant because according to the levitical law that they were living under, Zacchaeus would have been responsible to pay back 100% plus 20% to anyone he had defrauded. (Leviticus 6:4-5) Zacchaeus, however, commits to giving back 400% when the law only required that he return 120%. He committed to 280% above what the law required because he allowed love to dictate his response. Love isn’t bound to percentages or legal requirements.
At the conclusion of their meeting, Jesus states that “The son of man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). The Greek word for “lost” here is best understood as “not in the right place.” Zacchaeus was a man “lost” in his wealth and corruption but there was one who was looking. Jesus restores Zacchaeus back to the “right place” and right standing with the people of God. “He is also a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9).
All too often in life, I see my tendency to climb the proverbial sycamore tree to get noticed by God. My proclivity is to work/ serve to receive God’s love, to climb higher and higher up that tree, and to follow a set of laws because that is easier to comprehend. The good news is that there is one who is seeking to put us back “in the right place” with Him. The one who came to fulfill what the law could never accomplish.
In Matthew 22, the Pharisees wanted to talk about the law, but Jesus directed them to love.
Executive Director, Global Mission Awareness