Attributed to David, Psalm 32 is like a journey from sin into the joy of forgiveness. People often shy away from the word Sin today, After all of my theological training and lectures the best explanation of Sin is still the one told me by my Mom when I was a wee boy. Sin is a Small word with a big I at the centre. When I is the top priority, when self is the first concern then Sin is often the result. This Sin is enmeshed in our humanity. Often not dramatic just mundane everyday acts. But even they can spoil our relationships, disrupt our inner peace, guilt and anger can become very corrosive.
Verse 3&4 capture that well. But in verse 5 the Psalmist acknowledges their sin, confesses to God. And the Grace of God’s Forgiveness is the immediate response. Forgiveness is a gift of grace freely offered, if only we will reach out and take hold of it, and that is what the psalmist does in verse 5, and the rest of the Psalm is rejoicing in the faith which this forgiveness unlocks. It is as if the Psalmist is calling to us to learn from their experience. That we might also discover the grace of God’s forgiveness.
I believe that God wants to forgive us. But God respects our free will, God will not force our hand. The grace of God is freely given, but if we choose to ignore it and walk away God will respect our choice. But if we reach out – that amazing grace of God’s forgiveness is freely ours.
Psalm 32 has also been referred to as one of “Paul’s Psalms” because it is quoted extensively in Romans 4, to help establish that we are declared righteous not because of what we’ve done, but because of what Jesus Christ has done for us on the Cross.
Augustine had this psalm engraved on his bedroom wall as he lay dying in his bed. He read it all the time and when he was too sick, he instructed others to recite it for him.
For God does not hold our sins against us, as if keeping an account book of our failures and transgressions. God wants to forgive us. If we reach out to God that amazing grace of God’s forgiveness is freely ours.
1 Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.
2 ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
how precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed!
3 Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
’tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.
4 The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures;
he will my shield and portion be
as long as life endures.
John Newton (1725–1807)
The story of Zacchaeus is much loved in Sunday school, the little man who climbs up a tree to see Jesus provides one of the most vivid short stories in the whole of the Gospels. It is also a story rich in humour. Maybe children can identify with Zacchaeus when they find themselves at the back of a crowd and too short to see what’s going on.
Three of Luke’s regular themes can be seen in the story
the problem of excessive wealth from the exploitation of the poor
Jesus eating with sinners and outcasts
faith in Jesus bringing new life, life in all its rich fullness
I think, Luke uses this story as a comparison between the sad tale of the rich young ruler in the previous chapter who won’t let go of his wealth and in holding on to his wealth loses the opportunity of life in all its rich fullness.
Zacchaeus becomes the hero of the story. But nobody in Jericho liked Zacchaeus. I am sure they would be horrified to think that 2000 years later Zacchaeus is the only person from Jericho we know the name of.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector, he worked for the hated Roman authorities, many saw him as a traitor to his own country. Zacchaeus became rich by charging extra taxes which went straight into his pocket. Zacchaeus was a prime example of excessive wealth produced from the exploitation of the poor. No one in Jericho would think of Zacchaeus as a hero.
Most in Jericho would have shunned Zacchaeus, he may have been wealthy but he was not welcome. No wonder little Zacchaeus had to climb up the tree to see Jesus no one in the crowd would move to welcome him in. Zacchaeus was an outsider in its own community.
Of all the respectable religious people in Jericho that Jesus could have dined with, Jesus chose Zacchaeus the unwelcome outsider, the traitor, the sinner. The crowd were shocked and outraged they grumbled. “What sort of religious teacher was this Jesus, if he ate with the likes of Zacchaeus?”
In the past when the crowds were shocked and outraged at what Jesus did he often told parables. Parables like the lost sheep and the prodigal son. But this time it is as if Zacchaeus himself becomes the parable, he speaks to Jesus in front of the crowd. It is almost as if he is in acting out Psalm 32. Zacchaeus puts his faith in Jesus. Zacchaeus acknowledges and confesses his own selfish greed, and with that comes the amazing grace of God’s forgiveness.
Theologians call this repentance, repentance simply means to turn around and go the other way. For Zacchaeus that means turning his back on his selfish greedy ways and restoring or making amends. The excessive wealth Zacchaeus has accumulated from the exploitation of the poor, Zacchaeus dramatically pays back.
Zacchaeus is giving away his money, but he doesn’t care. He has found something much more valuable, he has found life in all its rich fullness. Jesus says today salvation has come to this house And once more Jesus links a former outcast back into the true family of Abraham. Because the son of man has come to seek and save the lost.
Who do you identify with in this story?
Can you follow the journey of forgiveness that Zacchaeus did?
Have you found the amazing grace of God’s forgiveness that is so valuable?, that is life in all its rich fullness.
Are you one of the crowd?
It can be so easy to label others as outsiders, incomers, not one of us, not really welcome.
Do we grumble at Jesus’ call to welcome the stranger, love our enemy?
Dose Jesus ask too much?
God wants to forgive us.
God wants to welcome us all, even the outcast and the stranger
If we respond, that amazing grace of God’s forgiveness is freely ours.
That is why Jesus came
That is why Jesus was willing to go to the Cross
So that we may have life, Life in all its rich fullness.
1 There is a Redeemer,
Jesus, God’s own Son,
precious Lamb of God, Messiah,
Thank you, O my Father,
for giving us your Son,
and leaving us your Spirit
till your work on earth is done.
2 Jesus, my Redeemer,
name above all names,
precious Lamb of God, Messiah,
once for sinners slain:
3 When I stand in glory
I will see his face,
and there I’ll serve my King for ever
in that holy place.
Melody Green (b. 1946)