Pastoral Perspectives

Having That One Friend

To help the Primary 1 students adjust to a new environment that is vastly different from pre-school, most primary schools have a buddy system. For my daughter’s school, it is the Primary 4 cohort who will get to befriend their juniors and help them find their way around school during recess for a period of 2 weeks.

My elder daughter, Sophia was rather enthusiastic about meeting her assigned buddy. She recalled how the presence of a helpful older girl made her feel welcomed and offered her some reassurance when she in Primary 1. Now that she has a chance to the same for another girl, she hopes that she can make a positive difference and help her junior ease into Primary School.

Undoubtedly, having good friends can make a significant impact upon our lives. This was certainly so for Zacchaeus whom Jesus graciously reached out to (Luke 19:1-10). Being the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus gained his riches by collecting money from his fellow Jews for the Roman government. Thus, it would not be surprising that Zacchaeus was not well liked by most Jews and that he probably had few friends, even amongst his own fraternity. After all, there was no mention of anyone helping Zacchaeus with his curiosity of wanting to see Jesus. Instead, Zacchaeus had to resort to climbing up a sycamore tree. Furthermore, when Jesus approached Zacchaeus and indicated his intent to visit him, the crowd all grumbled and expressed their disdain towards Zacchaeus whom they called a sinner (v.7).

In Jewish culture, it was understood that only someone who have a personal relationship with an individual gets to visit that person’s home and share a meal. For Zacchaeus, he welcomed Jesus with such joy and thankfulness because he never expected Jesus would choose to befriend someone like him. Someone who was looked down upon, someone who would have often compromised on his morals, someone who was more accustomed to bowing before Mammon rather than God.  

But notice what a wonderful transformation in Zacchaeus after Jesus chose to befriend him and stay at his place. One imagines that Zacchaeus would never have thought that his entire life would change in a single day. Instead of continuing with his old ways, Zacchaeus was prepared to follow Jesus. He had experienced God’s grace and readily offered to give away 50% percent of what he owns to the poor (v.8). This was far beyond what the Mosaic Law required.

In addition to showing compassion to the poor, Zacchaeus was committed to living an honest life. While Jesus did not require Zacchaeus to change his job, Zacchaeus was prepared to make restitution to those whom he defrauded. In fact, he was willing to “restore it fourfold”. From accruing wealth at the expense of others, Zacchaeus become one who would serve others at the expense of his wealth.

With Jesus now as his newfound friend, money was no longer his sole pursuit but a tool for doing good. Even though at this juncture, Zacchaeus would not have the full picture of what Jesus would accomplish through his death and resurrection, it was suffice for him to be accepted by Jesus. Indeed, Jesus had replaced money as Zacchaeus’ Saviour and Lord.

As we enter into a new year, I doubt that it will make much of a difference to how we feel about life and what we will do about it if there is no true change in our hearts. After all, a change in the date on a calendar means little apart from students having to return to the rigours of academic pursuit and many others resuming their work after the festive break. Likewise, a new day does not mean that circumstances will now be more favourable to us or that people around us will show us more favour. In and of themselves, they can hardly save us from tragedy or give us control in a chaotic world. To put our hopes in anything apart from God is to place ourselves ultimately on sinking sand. Without a real change in our hearts, we will still struggle with envy or greed and be anxious about our tomorrows.

On the other hand, if Christians learn to prayerfully reflect upon the costly grace that was shown to us by God, we are unlikely to remain the same person in 2020. For Zacchaeus, to the extent that he grasped the Gospel, money no longer had a hold over him. Zacchaeus was on his way to becoming a generous person rather than just complying to society’s expectations and trying to live a new life by merely fulfilling the letter of the law. Since salvation has come to Zacchaeus through Jesus (v.9), Zacchaeus was no longer lost amongst the crowds and in danger of destroying himself due to sin.

Some friends can really make a difference. As we embark on a new chapter of our lives in 2020, may our lives bear more and more evidence of Christ’s friendship with us. More than just redoubling our efforts to imitate the example of Jesus, let us pray that we will be like Zacchaeus who humbly and joyously responded to the friendship that Jesus graciously offered. And as we go about doing so, may God also use us to be a friend and a blessing to many others, pointing them to that one Friend whom we all need to have. Compared to all those well-wishes that we exchange during festive seasons, none can truly prosper us more than the “Son of Man who came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).