“And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “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
In Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s classic tale La Belle et la Bête or (The Beauty and the Beast), Beauty falls in love with Beast. Even when Beast is nowhere near what Beauty’s expectation of a charming lover, she loves him as if he is her handsome charmer of a Prince.
In the end, Beauty’s love for Beast transforms him into a handsome prince. It is Beauty’s tears of love alone that could break the enchantment and set Beast free.
In our devotional text above (Luke 19:8), Zacchaeus is Beast. He is a tax collector—an equivalent of a traitor—he has also defrauded his own people. He is a hated man because he chose to lick the feet of the Roman oppressors instead of standing with his tribe or even nation—in short—he is ugly.
But then this ugly guy, Luke tells us, gives all his stuff to the poor, even up to fourfold! Isn’t that suspect? When we concentrate on the ‘turn-of-events’, we will most certainly miss the story. Because there is something profound Luke is trying to communicate besides Zacchaeus becoming a charming prince—it is what Beauty does.
It is only after Jesus takes matters in His own hands and goes for a toast at this ugly man’s house that the transformation happens. It was because salvation came to Beast’s house that he was able to transform into a charming prince (Luke 19:9-10). That is the story—it’s the story of what Beauty does to break Beast’s enchantment—not how Beast becomes a charming prince.
The goodness Zacchaeus exhibits, therefore, is from Salvation, not for Salvation. It’s the salvation which comes to him, free of charge, which is able to set him free to finally be good and do good works. His good works are produced by salvation; it is not his good works that bring salvation. Big difference.
The only kind of goodness that God accepts is that which springs out of the heart with love because of (not for) salvation. The freedom that the gospel gives in Jesus sets us free from needing to earn salvation by being good, and then sets us free to do good works because of the salvation we already have. This is the ‘living faith’ James contrasts with ‘dead faith’ in James 2:14-17—the faith which by nature produces good works.
What are you going to do this week? Seek goodness (the charm of a prince)? I say don’t! Instead seek Jesus, seek Beauty who is able to make beautiful. The gospel tells us that Beauty has come down and walked among us, and His arms are wide open ready to receive us. Run to Him and He will make you Beautiful.
That is your Lifeline, AMEN.