I’ve been playing a game. Counting how many times the term “sparks outrage” is employed by increasingly lazy subeditors to describe the shocked reaction of certain sections of the community to whatever they don’t like. The spike in the use of the term since the election of Donald Trump has been interesting. There’s obviously a lot of outrage out there to be sparked for whatever reason.
Progressives are outraged by what they see as conservative reactionaries to progressive ideals. Conservatives are outraged by progressivism’s double standards about what outrages it.
Anyway, it got me thinking. If there was one person who sparked a lot of outrage it was Jesus, given he was crucified and all.
Here’s why Jesus ended up alone and bereft of friends on the cross. Jesus sparked outrage across the spectrum. Not just among the conservatives. Not just among the liberals. But everybody.
The story of Zacchaeus the tax collector is a prime example. We read the story of Jesus inviting himself to that sinner’s home and we love it. We love it because we know the end of the story and because we love Jesus and all that. But to be honest, whatever stripe you are – liberal or conservative – this single event should outrage us all.
Jesus’ primary detractors in his day were a strange amalgam of the religiously pious (the conservatives of our day), and the cultural/social gatekeepers (the liberals of our day). In other words the religious conservatives were the cultural agenda setters. In our day those two groups are bifurcated. But in Jesus’s day they were one and the same.
So socially Zacchaeus was on the outer, a deplorable no less, because he was a money grasping so and so. He ticked all of the social injustice boxes. And religiously he was on the outer, a cursed one, who in no way fitted the idea of what a son of Abraham would be. He ticked all of the impious, “sinner” boxes too.
And Jesus? Jesus cuts through all of that and outrages everyone. Jesus – the religiously purest figure ever who could ask “Who convinces me of sin?” Jesus – the one whose social justice program makes ours look pale, anaemic and unjust. This Jesus cuts through our outrage and transforms Zacchaeus.
How does he do it? Both in a spiritual sense (offending the conservatives), and in a social sense (offending the liberals). Without any prior just action on his part, Zacchaeus is accepted as socially justified. The result? He restores what he has unjustly taken. No social justice placard could shame him into costly restorative generosity. Only Jesus could.
And without any prior spiritual response on his part, Zacchaeus is declared by Jesus to be a “son of Abraham” – a true inheritor of God’s plans to bless the world. No spiritual effort on his side, no pulling himself up by his boostraps, could transform him from cursed to blessed. Only Jesus could.
Result? Outrage sparked. And if it doesn’t spark just that little bit of outrage in us – the unfairness of it all – as we view the story anew, then maybe, just maybe, we don’t fully get just how outrageous God’s grace towards us truly is. Maybe we think we are just that little bit more socially just, or that little bit more religiously pious than we actually are. And the way to determine that, of course, is to gauge whether your social injustices and your spiritual impieties outrage you more than the injustices and impieties of others.
I was going to comment that Zacchaeus is the pin-up boy for the progressives – they love the way the despised underdog is rescued by Jesus and want to extend the same kind of welcome to gays, migrants, and sinners of all stripes. But you could argue that he represents a successful capitalist, a fat cat, a corrupt bureaucrat – and even the most compassionate lefty hates those!
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