Joyful Sinners

When Jesus came to the [sycamore tree], he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to the guest of one who is a sinner.” – Luke 19:5-7 (NRSV)

The point of sin, as I understood it growing up in church, was to shame you into right living. Without sins—especially inherent, unavoidable, emotional sins like pride and anger and (Lord have mercy) sexual thoughts—how would we know that God was so much better than us or that Jesus’ death was the reason to feel unworthy of God’s love?

How dare Zacchaeus, sinner that he was, skip right past shame and embrace happiness!

How dare Zacchaeus nab Jesus’ attention from the branches of a tree, instead of waiting in line like everyone else!

How dare he and his friends enjoy a good meal with the holy teacher whose presence was the hottest ticket in town!

There are systems, you see, for being redeemed by God and redeemed in society: religious rituals and social manners that must be honored, special prayers to say and certain pedigrees to respect, penance that must be served spiritually and judgment that must be endured politely before daring to go about the world with garish exuberance.

Look at Zacchaeus, laughing with crumbs in his beard! Look at Jesus, relaxed and joyful at Zacchaeus’ table!

Would that we were as easily delighted as they: that we shouted every hallelujah and roared with every gratitude; that we no longer held shame dutifully to get on God’s good side but embraced healing with pleasure; that we applauded every Zacchaeus who showed us the way.

Prayer: Perhaps today I will climb a tree, dear Jesus. Even if I don’t make it to the first branch, please set me free from social shame and welcome me into unlimited joy.

published with the Daily Devotional


You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. – Psalm 23:5 (NRSV) 

If a steaming dish of buttery mashed potatoes is part of the dinner spread, you’d best believe I’ll be returning for a second helping during the meal. Same is true with the sourest Pennsylvania Dutch sauerkraut. Also corn-on-the-cob at peak ripeness. And fresh-from-the-vine summer tomatoes. And soft, juicy pears that drip down the chin. 

And if fudge pie is on the menu for dessert? Jesus help me, I’ll be coming for seconds and thirds. Good food gets me singing and swaying and returning for more. 

Too bad that’s not the abundantly prepared table of Psalm 23. There are ample green pastures, clean still waters, right paths, anointing oil—all good gifts, to be sure—but no mashed potatoes. No sauerkraut. No corn or tomatoes or pears. And no fudge pie. 

The psalmist’s thanksgiving and awe are not inspired by the table’s spread (alas) but by its location: in the riskiest and least comfortable place imaginable, surrounded by folks with ill intent. The psalmist’s deep gratitude is a response to the Shepherd’s invitation: “Here, beloved, sit in peace and dine without worry.”  

A Holy Host, rather than a Holy Chef. A reassurance, rather than a menu. A gift that aims to fill the spirit instead of the belly: a gift of peace no matter the turmoil, a head-held-high assurance that no one—not even your worst enemy—can keep you from God’s abundance. 

That’s a table worth returning to for seconds. 

Prayer: For the peace that tastes better than fudge pie, O Gracious Host, thank you. 

cross-published with the Daily Devotional

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