I’ve heard a few stories of loss this week. No deaths or anything that would make the church bulletin prayer list, really — just more of your everyday, behind-the-scenes, run-of-the-mill kinds of loss.
Loss of friendships. Loss of psychological bearings in a new season of life. Loss of inheritance. Loss of what were sunny expectations in a long-term relationship.
I have some of my own stories of loss; in fact, some of them sound a lot like these. I’m sure you have your stories, too.
Whenever I hear stories of loss, of course I feel extremely sad for the person suffering, my heart swells with empathy and I grieve their loss, no matter how small or foreign it may seem to be.
These stories have made me think again about the story of rich, successful, accomplished, self-made Zacchaeus and how his story is a story of loss. (Scroll down to read the story in its entirety; I pasted the text at the very bottom.) It was voluntary loss, but it was loss nonetheless. Zacchaeus’ life was going so well!! You would have loved it, wanted it, envied it. Upon coming face to face with Jesus, Zacchaeus impulsively stripped himself of his wealth, his success, his status, his honor, his best efforts to save face. Zacchaeus was already “in” in all of the ways that it was good to be “in.” In one fell swoop, he lost it all: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And instead of empathy for what would prove to be great personal loss to Zacchaeus’ popularity, bank account, security, and personal comfort, Jesus unexpectedly burst out with my favorite line in the story: “Today salvation has come to this house!” Because stories of loss are stories of salvation.
Then, Jesus again: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
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We tend to think of the salvation of God as mostly sunny, like a beautiful summer day. We tend to picture the salvation of God as mostly ooey-gooey and delicious, like a brownie. We tend to think of the salvation of God as mostly emotionally triumphant, like a happy-tears-filled altar call.
No, the salvation of God often comes to us in the gloomiest, most bitter, most emotionally defeating places in our lives. The salvation of God often lies on the other side of loss. Whenever you lose something, voluntarily or involuntarily, you have come to the edge of salvation. In your most dismal moments of loss, you have arrived at the precipice of experiencing more of God and God’s salvific way of things.
Because stories of loss are stories of salvation.
In whatever areas of your life you hear yourself saying, “I feel so lost…” those are precisely the areas in which God is in the very midst – saving, restoring, healing, transforming: salvation. In whatever areas of your life you sense loneliness or hurt or grief or loss, those are precisely the areas in which God is inviting you to walk with him through the difficult mess and into newer, fresher, even more life-giving life: Eternal Life.
It is exactly in those lost places that the Son of Man comes to seek and save you. It is perhaps only when you are willing and ready to admit that you are, indeed, utterly and self-hopelessly lost that the Son of Man is able to seek and save you.
Don’t get me wrong: even if you let your loss lead you to the salvation of God, the salvation of God will not make you feel immediately, permanently sunny. You will still have a lot of muck through which to walk. (I mean, at the very least, your loves will need re-ordering, your vices will need confessing, and your pride will need humiliating.) Yes, the loss will still sting. In fact, the salvation of God may not alleviate any of the sting of the loss. Ever. But if you choose to let your losses lead you to the vast landscape of the salvation of God, you can be sure of a few things: that you will be with God (even if you can’t feel it) and that God will become more known to you (over time) and you will eventually benefit from knowing God more (and that will probably make you least a little bit happy).
Today you lost your inheritance? “Oh, how great! Today salvation has come to you!” Today you suffer a loss of psychological bearings in a new season of life? “Oh, how great! Today salvation has come to you!” Today you’ve lost another friendship? “Oh, how great! Today salvation has come to you!” Today you seem to have lost your sunny expectations in a long-term, established relationship? “Oh, how great! Today salvation has come to you!”
Loss leads to salvation? It’s an upside down world with Jesus, again, friends.
Luke 19: Zacchaeus’ Loss
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”