Christians Do!

“The son of man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 25:10).


Jesus didn’t call his disciples because he wanted to hang out with the guys! He called them to follow him in mission. Shortly after his baptism Jesus came across two fishermen, Peter and Andrew, as they were casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee.  “Follow me,” he called to them, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18-19).

There is a purpose to discipleship: we’re sent to go fishing as Jesus fished, for the lost and the broken. Jesus looked for the ones the world despised because He didn’t despise them; and the Father didn’t despise them either. It is precisely for them that he came into the world: not to condemn or judge, but to redeem. They are the catch He is after.

“The son of man has come to seek and to save the lost.”

Tino’s life speaks of the transformation wrought by the Lord through the love of his disciples. When he moved to South Florida, Tino had almost nothing going for him: he was down on his luck and had made mistakes, plenty of them. He was addicted to drugs and had been in trouble with the law. He had no friends or family: he was lonely, hungry, homeless, and broken. Tino was what Ralph Ellison described as an “invisible man.” People would walk past him and not even see  him; that’s how little he mattered. He felt small, inconsequential, and alone.

One Thursday night, because he was hungry, Tino wandered into New Life United Methodist Church in Fort Lauderdale where they host a weekly meal for the homeless. At New Life he got a good meal, but he got more: his spirit was fed too. He prayed for the first time in a long time, and he felt welcomed by the volunteers. Tino’s heart was “strangely warmed” at that meal, so he kept coming back every Thursday, week after week. And at those Thursday night meals Tino was being truly fed. Over time the volunteers at New Life got to know him, and he got to know them. He began coming early to help set up for the meal, and he’d stay late to help clean up. The other volunteers began to look forward to seeing Tino every week – for them he had become more than just some a homeless guy, he was, well, he was Tino – invisible no longer.

My friend Robin Martin, who was the director of Hope South Florida once told me that the homeless don’t need food, there is plenty of food out there for them. What they really hunger for is to be “seen,” they hunger for kindness, and relationship. They hunger for God.

One day Tino stopped coming to those Thursday meals, he just disappeared. The Thursday night volunteers wondered what happened to their friend. They didn’t know it, but Tino had gotten in trouble with the law once again, and while it wasn’t a terribly significant offense, because of his prior record he was sentenced to seven months in county jail.

Time dragged for Tino while he was behind bars; at first his days were long and empty. He had a Bible, though, and he began to read it. He was particularly taken by the story of Moses. He wanted to have faith in God, like Moses had. He thought, “if only I could see your face, like Moses did, Lord, then I could believe in you.” Tino was longing for God’s presence, but not feeling Him present. He was lost, but he was searching. He was looking for God not really knowing how or where to find him.

The Gospels give us example after example of Jesus’ ministry to the marginalized and overlooked. To people like Tino.

Remember the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)? He was a small man, both physically and morally. Because he was the chief tax collector of Jericho, he was universally hated and shunned by his neighbors and by all pious Jews. Zacchaeus was a quisling, a traitor to his own people working for the Roman occupiers; he had sold his fellow Jews out for all the money he could collect by both honest and dishonest means. And he collected lots of it, Luke tells us that he was “very rich.”

Zacchaeus’ only virtue, if you can call it that, is his curiosity. When he learned that Jesus was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, Zacchaeus wanted to see the prophet everyone has been talking about. Being short, he climbed a Sycamore tree to get a glimpse of the the Lord over the heads of the crowd. That’s all Zacchaeus expected, he was a spiritual tourist; but he was about to become a pilgrim.

When Jesus approached the sycamore Zacchaeus was perched in the Lord didn’t just walk by, he looked up. Where others saw a despicable little creep, Jesus saw a brother, a child of God. So he called out to the man whom no one else would talk to: “Make haste to come down, Zacchaeus, for I must stay at your house today.” The word “must” is a translation of the little Greek word “dei.” Scholars call that word the “divine imperative,” whenever it appears in the Gospels it indicates the Father’s will. What Jesus is saying here is that the Father has sent him to Jericho specifically for this moment, for this encounter. Jesus is in Jericho specifically to call a hated little man out of a sycamore tree and go to his house.

Why would Jesus go to be the guest of a notorious sinner? When the people following Jesus saw this they shook their heads disapprovingly and complained to each other. They are seeing and judging as the world sees and judges. Jesus sees as his Father sees, and is doing exactly what his Father wants.

When Zacchaeus speaks to the prophet he had hoped only to glimpse we see what has really happened: “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore it fourfold.”  The crowd doesn’t see the change in Zacchaeus, but Jesus does; He responds to Zacchaeus and the crowd: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

That’s what he has sent his disciples to do too! He has sent us to seek and to save the lost. We must (dei) do that if we are to be his disciples.

The salvation of Zacchaeus started when Jesus looked at him. Jesus did more than just see a little man in a tree, he saw Zacchaeus. He saw a son of Abraham, a person whom God loved and created tenderly. Jesus saw through the eyes of His father; and we are empowered to see through the eyes of Christ. Every person we pass has been made in the image of God, no matter how far they have fallen, no matter how tarnished the image has become through sin, they are still God’s creative masterpiece. And we have the grace, as the lord’s disciples, to know that. Knowing isn’t enough, though. Jesus wants us to act – Christians DO!

In the 25th Chapter of his Gospel, Matthew recounts Jesus’ story of the last judgment; it is a well known scene: the Lord comes on the clouds and separates the sheep from the goats – the good from the evil. Then he pronounces judgment. The Good are welcomed into the Kingdom, the evil are cast out into the darkness of eternal punishment. If you are a believer it’s a story that grabs your attention. Even if you’re not, it should at least set you to thinking about life and the choices you make.

We live in an ideological era – people lose their lives because of thoughts and theories. Wars are fought over religious beliefs, and lives are sacrificed on the altars of unforgiving gods.  Perhaps it has always been so.  It’s interesting that the Lord’s standard of judgment has nothing to do with theory or orthodoxy. Nor does the Judge, in the final analysis, care about our professions of faith or our attendance in church. The Lord’s standard judgment is surprising, so surprising that the good and the evil alike are caught off guard by it.

Famously the Lord invites the good to inherit the kingdom “prepared for them since the foundation of the world” because “when I was hungry you fed me…” He continues to recognize the saved because of their compassionate actions (not thoughts) toward him – visiting him when imprisoned, caring for him when sick, welcoming him when a stranger. The evil are cast into darkness on the same standards – they fail to feed, visit, care for, and welcome the Lord. 

Sheep and goats alike are confused: “When have we seen you, Lord.” Neither recognized the Lord’s presence in the “least of [his] brothers and sisters.” The difference between those who inherit the Kingdom and those who are sent to eternal punishment is whether they acted to help the suffering.  God’s standard of judgment is simply whether or not we have acted with compassionate love – giving to those who have no way to return the favor.

The Lord IS present in the poor, broken, lonely, suffering – though we usually don’t recognize Him. But it’s not recognizing Him in our suffering neighbors that matters, it’s in serving him there. There are plenty of broken people all around us who don’t LOOK like the presence of God – nor do they act like it. Sometimes they’re smelly, often they’re unpleasant, or inconvenient, or inappropriate, or uncooperative. Some are victims of their own addictions, compulsions, or bad habits. This population can be a real pain. Helping them can be a real effort. But they are where we will find Christ’s presence; in serving them we serve Him.

The Lord expects us to act and serve, not talk and talk. We must strive to love them as we love ourselves. as our brothers and sisters.  Everything depends it: How can we serve them, though, unless we see them? And how can we see them unless we look for them! It all starts by looking!

That’s what the Thursday night volunteers at New Life Church did: after a few weeks of wondering what happened to Tino they began to look for him: they went to the parts of town Tino frequented, they asked around. There are no secrets on the streets, and soon enough they found out where he was. Then they took action.

A guard came up to Tino one Thursday night (his visiting day) and told him he had a visitor. “There must be some mistake,” he told the guard, “I don’t know anyone here. It must be a mistake.” It wasn’t a mistake, though, it was his friends from church. They came that Thursday, and every Thursday, as long as Tino was in jail. He had prayed to see the face of God, and in these brothers and sisters in the Lord, he did see it, and it transformed him. Now Tino is drug free: he finished his college degree; he has a good job; he continues to help the homeless, in fact he got a commercial drivers license to be able to drive a bus that takes them to meals like the one that changed his life. Recently he married a beautiful young woman and embraced her 10 year old daughter as his own. All this has happened because, through his disciples, Jesus showed Tino his face.

“The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

When Tino moved to South Florida he had almost nothing going for him: he was down on his luck and had made mistakes, plenty of them. He was addicted to drugs and had been in trouble with the law. He had no friends or family: he was lonely, hungry, homeless, and broken. Tino was what Ralph Ellison described as an “invisible man.” People would walk past him and not even see  him; that’s how little he mattered. He felt small, inconsequential, and alone.

One Thursday night, because he was hungry, Tino wandered into New Life United Methodist Church in Fort Lauderdale where they host a weekly meal for the homeless. At New Life he got a good meal, but he got more: his spirit was fed too. He prayed for the first time in a long time, and he felt welcomed by the volunteers. Tino’s heart was “strangely warmed” at that meal, so he kept coming back every Thursday, week after week. And at those Thursday night meals Tino was being truly fed. Over time the volunteers at New Life got to know him, and he got to know them. He began coming early to help set up for the meal, and he’d stay late to help clean up. The other volunteers began to look forward to seeing Tino every week – for them he had become more than just some a homeless guy, he was, well, he was Tino – invisible no longer.

My friend Robin Martin, who was until recently the Executive Director of Hope South Florida, once told me that the homeless don’t need food, there is plenty of food out there for them. What they really hunger for is to be “seen,” they hunger for kindness, and relationship. They hunger for God.

One day Tino stopped coming to those Thursday meals, he just disappeared. The Thursday night volunteers wondered what happened to their friend. They didn’t know it, but Tino had gotten in trouble with the law once again, and while it wasn’t a terribly significant offense, because of his prior record he was sentenced to seven months in county jail.

Time dragged for Tino while he was behind bars; at first his days were long and empty. He had a Bible, though, and he began to read it. He was particularly taken by the story of Moses. He wanted to have faith in God, like Moses had. He thought, “if only I could see your face, like Moses did, Lord, then I could believe in you.” Tino was longing for God’s presence, but not feeling Him present. He was lost, but he was searching. He was looking for God not really knowing how or where to find him.

The Gospels give us example after example of Jesus’ ministry to the marginalized and overlooked. To people like Tino.

Remember the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)? He was a small man, both physically and morally. Because he was the chief tax collector of Jericho, he was universally hated and shunned by his neighbors and by all pious Jews. Zacchaeus was a quisling, a traitor to his own people working for the Roman occupiers; he had sold his fellow Jews out for all the money he could collect by both honest and dishonest means. And he collected lots of it, Luke tells us that he was “very rich.”

Zacchaeus’ only virtue, if you can call it that, is his curiosity. When he learned that Jesus was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, Zacchaeus wanted to see the prophet everyone has been talking about. Being short, he climbed a Sycamore tree to get a glimpse of the the Lord over the heads of the crowd. That’s all Zacchaeus expected, he was a spiritual tourist; but he was about to become a pilgrim.

When Jesus approached the sycamore Zacchaeus was perched in the Lord didn’t just walk by, he looked up. Where others saw a despicable little creep, Jesus saw a brother, a child of God. So he called out to the man whom no one else would talk to: “Make haste to come down, Zacchaeus, for I must stay at your house today.” The word “must” is a translation of the little Greek word “dei.” Scholars call that word the “divine imperative,” whenever it appears in the Gospels it indicates the Father’s will. What Jesus is saying here is that the Father has sent him to Jericho specifically for this moment, for this encounter. Jesus is in Jericho specifically to call a hated little man out of a sycamore tree and go to his house.

Why would Jesus go to be the guest of a notorious sinner? When the people following Jesus saw this they shook their heads disapprovingly and complained to each other. They are seeing and judging as the world sees and judges. Jesus sees as his Father sees, and is doing exactly what his Father wants.

When Zacchaeus speaks to the prophet he had hoped only to glimpse we see what has really happened: “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore it fourfold.”  The crowd doesn’t see the change in Zacchaeus, but Jesus does; He responds to Zacchaeus and the crowd: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

That’s what he has sent his disciples to do too! He has sent us to seek and to save the lost. We must (dei) do that if we are to be his disciples.

The salvation of Zacchaeus started when Jesus looked at him. Jesus did more than just see a little man in a tree, he saw Zacchaeus. He saw a son of Abraham, a person whom God loved and created tenderly. Jesus saw through the eyes of His father; and we are empowered to see through the eyes of Christ. Every person we pass has been made in the image of God, no matter how far they have fallen, no matter how tarnished the image has become through sin, they are still God’s creative masterpiece. And we have the grace, as the lord’s disciples, to know that. Knowing isn’t enough, though. Jesus wants us to act – Christians DO!

When we hear the words of the Son of Man at the final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), what we have done, not what we have thought, or even how well we have prayed, is the standard for judgment. Having separated the righteous from the unrighteous, the sheep from the goats, the Lord says to the righteous: “When I was hungry you gave me food (you didn’t just walk past me, or think of feeding me, you DID something), when I was thirsty, you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me; in prison and you came to me.” In each instance it is what is done that matters. Christ’s followers are act in the world. It’s not enough to sit under a bodhi tree and meditate, Jesus wants us to take action. And not any old action. He expects us to reach out to the ones who are most in need: those who under and thirst, or who endure want or privation; the aliens and strangers among us, folks who are different, or despised, or shunned; those who suffer agony of body or spirit; and those locked in prisons, whether or not of their own making. Whenever we serve one of these, the least of the Lord’s brothers and sisters, we serve Him!

How can we serve them, though, unless we see them? And how can we see them unless we look for them! It all starts by looking!

That’s what the Thursday night volunteers at New Life Church did: after a few weeks of wondering what happened to Tino they began to look for him: they went to the parts of town Tino frequented, they asked around. There are no secrets on the streets, and soon enough they found out where he was. Then they took action.

A guard came up to Tino one Thursday night (his visiting day) and told him he had a visitor. “There must be some mistake,” he told the guard, “I don’t know anyone here. It must be a mistake.” It wasn’t a mistake, though, it was his friends from church. They came that Thursday, and every Thursday, as long as Tino was in jail. He had prayed to see the face of God, and in these brothers and sisters in the Lord, he did see it, and it transformed him. Now Tino is drug free: he finished his college degree; he has a good job; he continues to help the homeless, in fact he got a commercial drivers license to be able to drive a bus that takes them to meals like the one that changed his life. Recently he married a beautiful young woman and embraced her 10 year old daughter as his own. All this has happened because, through his disciples, Jesus showed Tino his face.

“The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”


Author: Richard Hasselbach

The Rev. Richard Hasselbach is pastor of Christ Community Church in Pompano Beach, Florida. Pastor Rich holds a B.A. in Philosophy magna cum laude from Siena College, and a J.D. magna cum laude from Boston College Law School. His M.Div. was awarded by the Washington Theological Union, and he has a Ph.D. From Fordham University.

1 thought on “Christians Do!”

  1. God looks in at the heart and knows if we are really transformed when we make our profession of faith. If it’s real, we are impelled to respond by reaching out to those who also need to be transformed. It’s a “Thank You, Lord, for what You have done for me.”

    0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *