Responding to “Hot Takes”

Now there were some present at that very season who told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
And [Jesus] answered and said unto them, “Think ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they have suffered these things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them, think ye that they were offenders above all the men that dwell in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5).

These days it feels as if we are being consumed by the “hot take.”

Between 24/7 cable news stations and the Internet we feel awash with information and news. Information about events is distributed in real time; confusion often spreads before anyone can make any sense of what is transpiring. Since so many have access to both information and the means by which to respond to it, we are often made to feel as if we must respond so that people know we are aware and where we may stand on any given issue. So much seems to happen, and we get overwhelmed very quickly. We yearn for a more wise and reflective view of current events. And yet, most of the time, whatever might be the big news story today is often forgotten about by tomorrow. We are chasing the next big story; those who have to suffer the consequences of the last big story have to sort their lives out as everyone else has moved on.

We might imagine that such things are new to us in our hyper-connected digital age, but “hot takes” and responses to them are as old as humanity. Jesus Himself was confronted with a “hot take” in Luke 13:1, a fresh Roman outrage against the Jewish people: Pilate, procurator of Judea, evidently ordered some Galilean Jewish people to be slaughtered, and their blood mingled with that of the sacrifices offered on their behalf. The Jewish people already did not like Roman rule and felt that the Romans, like the Greeks before them, would attempt to suppress their ability to practice their faith without hindrance. And here is the Roman procurator killing Jewish people offering sacrifices! Was the time not coming when YHWH would deliver His people from these oppressive pagans? Was it not being claimed that Jesus was the Messiah of God? What would He have to say about such things? Surely He would take the opportunity to condemn the Romans for what they had done. Surely He would identify with His people against those who oppressed them!

Yet Jesus is not taken in by the “hot take.” It is not as if He is unaware of what happened, nor is He unaware of His audience’s expectation. In fact, He referenced another recent “hot take,” news involving the death of eighteen people when a tower fell on them in Siloam (Luke 13:4). He does not take the opportunity to condemn the Romans; instead, He spoke to the very basic and primal response to such “hot takes” and news. He asked if these people who have suffered in this way, be it from Pilate’s men or from a terrible accident, were any worse sinners than others. He wanted to make it clear that unless those to whom He spoke repented, they would likewise perish (Luke 13:2-5).

What does that have to do with these events? While we often speak of the Jewish people who live in the time of Christ in different ways than those who lived in Old Testament times, they are all being shaped by often consistent cultural expectations. One such expectation, seen frequently in wisdom literature, is that people get what they deserve. The righteous and industrious are wealthy and blessed; the wicked and lazy are poor and suffer indignity. Sometimes this happens; as we can see in Job and Ecclesiastes, however, sometimes the wicked obtain wealth, and the righteous suffer indignities. Even so, it seems that the Jewish people easily defaulted to the view that people get what they deserve: thus, it must have been that God willed for those Galileans to be killed because they were sinners, and God allowed that tower to fall on those eighteen because they were sinful. It also provides a nice comfortable cushion and barrier between the observer and the observed: since these things did not happen to me, but it happened to them, I must be in a better situation than they are. They must have been worse off; they must have deserved it; I do not, and therefore I will not have to suffer such indignity.

Jesus knew they thought these things, and so Jesus corrected them. In so doing Jesus opened up the very terrifying prospect to them that is all too real: bad things happen to people, and many times it has nothing to do with the type of person they are. Sometimes the righteous suffer and die; sometimes the wicked prosper. People become victims of random violence, the oppression of the state, or calamitous events. It was easier to believe, and hope, that such things happen to other people, and not to “us,” because we do not deserve it, and thus somehow they do. No, Jesus says; they are no worse than you. They did not deserve to have such things happen to them. They suffered tragically; nothing stops us from suffering as tragically.

It has always been almost comically easy to learn of “hot takes” and news about other people and remain entirely disconnected. Such terrible things happen over there to people like them. Such things would not happen here or to people like us. We have to find some reason to explain why they must suffer so and yet we should not; it is very comforting that way. And yet Jesus still says no. They are no worse than us. They did not deserve to have such things happen to them. They suffered tragically, and we could as well. We may live our lives watching bad things happen to “them,” and think it will never happen to us, until that day when “we” become “them.”

Thus we do well to learn Jesus’ lesson: we do better to identify with those who suffer than to try to find internal reasons to keep them at arm’s length. We are not guaranteed to go through life without suffering tragedy or becoming the next “hot take.” What happens to the other today may happen to us tomorrow. Our trust must not be in our righteousness or good fortune but in God in Christ. May we all change our hearts and minds to align our will to God’s so they we may not perish but obtain eternal life in the resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

What Jesus Saw in Zacchaeus

And he entered and was passing through Jericho. And behold, a man called by name Zacchaeus; and he was a chief publican, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the crowd, because he was little of stature. And he ran on before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and said unto him, “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house.”
And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, “He is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner.”
And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold.”
And Jesus said unto him, “To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:1-10).

Zacchaeus is famous for being a “wee little man,” a character that small children learn about in Bible classes. Yet there is much that grownups can learn from Zacchaeus and his interaction with Jesus.

When the Jews saw Zacchaeus, they saw a little weasel who sided with the oppressor against them. As a publican, or tax-collector, he was equivalent to a Gentile, and probably seen as much worse (cf. Matthew 18:17). If you were trying to find the ultimate example of a sinful person in first century Judea, you would speak about the publican (cf. Luke 18:9-14)!

The publicans were seen as evil because the job attracted some of the least reputable and most corrupt persons in society. They were told to go and collect a given amount from the people, and their salary was whatever they could obtain beyond that amount. Not a few tax collectors would extort double, triple, or even quadruple the necessary funds from the people in order to line their own pockets. You can certainly understand why they were universally disliked!

Therefore, we can understand that when the people of Jericho saw Zacchaeus, they saw one of the most insufferable sinners in their midst– he is not just a tax collector, but is the chief tax collector! The people of Jericho likely could barely stomach the idea that he was a child of Abraham like they were. They would, no doubt, be assured that he would suffer greatly in the pit of Sheol because of his profession and extortion. To them, he was a good-for-nothing tax collector!

But what did Jesus see in Zacchaeus?

Did He see a sinful man, one who was quite guilty of sin? Undoubtedly. Did Jesus understand how Zacchaeus would be perceived by his fellow man? Absolutely.

But Jesus saw a side of Zacchaeus that the rest of the people refused to see. He saw the possibility of repentance in such a man despite his great sin. He perceived how Zacchaeus was extremely interested in seeing Him. Jesus, therefore, did the most unbelievable and amazing thing, at least in the eyes of the inhabitants of Jericho: He decided to lodge with Zacchaeus, of all people!

Were there not many more righteous men in Jericho? In the eyes of the people, certainly. There were probably a few Pharisees in town, maybe a priest or Levite or two. But Jesus stays with the ultimate sinner! Tongues began to wag. People begin to question. If Jesus really was the Son of God, why would He stay with such a man?

Jesus is vindicated by Zacchaeus’ response. Since Jesus was willing to show Zacchaeus love, compassion, and mercy, and to give him a chance, even if entirely undeserved, Zacchaeus responded with repentance. Jesus gently rebukes the crowd by demonstrating how salvation has come and that Zacchaeus is a child of Abraham, even if the people saw him as “too sinful” to “deserve” that status. And we see how Jesus’ ultimate purpose was fulfilled: He came to seek and save the lost.

There is a lot that we can learn from this story. For those who are in sin and separated from their Creator (Isaiah 59:1-2), you can take courage by the example of Zacchaeus, and know that Jesus has provided you love, compassion, and mercy, even though you do not deserve it (Romans 5:5-11, Ephesians 2:1-10). You also can change your ways and begin serving the Lord and be saved, no matter what you have done (1 Timothy 1:12-16).

All of us, however, can learn from Jesus and what He saw in Zacchaeus. If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that we have played the part of the people of Jericho far too often. We have seen terribly sinful people and believe that there was almost no chance for them to be saved. We have despised such people in our heart, especially if those people have oppressed us or harmed us in some way. We certainly could not see how any truly righteous person would have anything to do with such people!

The witness of Scripture is clear: all have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of the Father (Romans 3:9-23), and that means that none of us have the right to so judge and condemn anyone (Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 14:11-12, James 4:12). The only reason that any of us have a prayer is because God showed us love, compassion, and mercy, and that despite ourselves (Romans 5:5-11, Titus 3:3-8). Those “terrible sinners” have just as much right to obtain God’s grace, repent of their sins, and be obedient as any of the rest of us do. God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11)!

Therefore, when we encounter “terrible sinners,” let us remember that just as Jesus would show them love, mercy, and compassion, even though they do not deserve it, so we should also show them love, mercy, and compassion. It may very well be that we have little influence on their actions or their lives. But you never know when the person that you have written off as a “terrible sinner” may turn out to be a Zacchaeus, one who will hear and change his ways. Let us all strive to maintain humility and reflect the love of Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus, Sinners, and Pharisees

And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he entered into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And behold, a woman who was in the city, a sinner; and when she knew that he was sitting at meat in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster cruse of ointment, and standing behind at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee that had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying,
“This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner.”
And Jesus answering said unto him, “Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.”
And he saith, “Teacher, say on.”
“A certain lender had two debtors: the one owed five hundred shillings, and the other fifty. When they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most?”
Simon answered and said, “He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most.”
And he said unto him, “Thou hast rightly judged.”
And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon, “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me no kiss: but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:36-47).

One of the difficulties with humanity involves perception. It is easy for people to look at a given person or circumstance through one particular set of lenses and to make confining judgments.

This story clearly illustrates this difficulty. Simon the Pharisee is not an evil man or an evil-willed man. We have no reason to doubt his sincerity and his passion for the Law of Moses. Nevertheless, he looks at both the woman and at Jesus through certain lenses, and does not consider any other alternatives.

The woman, according to Simon, is a sinner. To Simon, this makes her unclean, spiritually if not physically. On account of this “sin” condition of hers, she ought not even be present before himself and Jesus, at least in the eyes of Simon. It does not matter how she feels about her sin– she remains a sinner.

Likewise, if Jesus really was who He said He was, He would know these things. Simon is willing to doubt that Jesus is a prophet because He is not holding to Simon’s expectation of holiness: “surely” a prophet would withhold himself from such a sinner. He would have nothing to do with her!

It is easy to see how such narrow-mindedness leads to hardened hearts: Simon would not be alone in this. He has his own set of expectations based on his judgments. He may question other things, but those judgments are not as questioned.

Thankfully, Jesus breaks out from all such narrow-mindedness and myopia. Did Jesus know what type of woman this was? Most assuredly He did! But the woman was not some unrepentant sinner– she came and demonstrated her repentance by her actions. Jesus’ parable illustrates the reality of God’s Kingdom against the speculations of Simon: those who are forgiven more are more thankful. She loved more, therefore, her sins were forgiven!

It was a shocking statement in first century Judea indeed, but it was true– prostitutes and sinners would enter God’s Kingdom before the Law-loving Pharisees (cf. Matthew 21:31). At the close of this scene, the “sinner” woman, and not Simon the Pharisee, is forgiven, and reconciled to God.

We would do well to learn from this story and to maintain Jesus’ attitude. It may very well be that the “terrible sinners” enter the Kingdom before the “good, moral people.” The Kingdom might be full of people with whom we would not automatically choose associate. Let us not attempt to confine the work of God based upon our perspective. We might find ourselves in the wrong position before the Lord! Let us repent of our sin and mourn for it, and love the Lord Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry