During my seminary college years, I had a small "Peanuts" cartoon taped on my bookcase. It showed Snoopy holding down second base on Charlie Brown's team. Though playing the position in a very unorthodox way, he was getting the job done. In the last frame, Charlie Brown looks out at the reader of the strip and says, "Good managers learn to work with what they have!"

Sunday's sacred writers would have appreciated Charles Schultz's perception. Each operates in far-from-perfect situations alongside far-from-perfect people, yet each still manages to surface and recognize God working in those situations and people.

Many of us plan to "make our move" in life only when the circumstances in which we live line up in such perfect patterns that our move is guaranteed to achieve the best results. Of course, because such perfect patterns almost never happen, we generously absolve ourselves from ever doing the important things God calls us to do.

God's view

The author of Wisdom can identify with our experience. But though he faces the same temptation, he realizes that whatever patterns he sees, he sees from a limited view (Wis 11: 22-12:2). Not being able to look at life from God's perspective, he can't even guess at what's perfect and what's imperfect.

"Before the Lord," he writes, "the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth." This leads him to look at things from God's point of view. In doing so, he even rethinks one of this earth's biggest causes of imperfection: the evil people who share the plant with us. He eventually sees the situation from God's desire to save all people rather than from His desire to have an easy life.

Paul follows a similar path. Though he deals with a group of Christians in Thessalonika who are "shaken and alarmed" by rumors of Jesus' imminent Parousia, he doesn't ask God to reshuffle the community deck (II Thes 1: 11-2:2). He simply prays "that the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ." If God can work through such people in spite of their imperfections, then Paul can certainly work with them.

Luke helps this community face a parallel problem by focusing on the famous story of Jesus and Zaccheus (Lk 19: 1-10).

Many of us believe the best way to deal with evil is to set up criteria for determining who's good and who's bad, label those who belong in each category, then go through life avoiding the bad and hanging with the good. Following that philosophy, the only time we're to communicate with the bad, or even think about them, is in situations in which their badness is contrasted with our goodness.

Good and evil

Luke's Jesus never buys into that way of looking at reality. He believes evil people can change, not by being shouted down or being compared with the good, but by being offered the love and concern which should be at the root of all good. That's what he does with Zaccheus.

Instead of reminding Zaccheus of how evil he is, Jesus gives him a chance to demonstrate his goodness. "Zaccheus," he yells, "come down quickly for today I must stay at your house."

Amazingly, the hated tax collector accepts Jesus' invitation. And in spite of the crowd's taunts, he promises, "Half my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor; and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over."

Luke ends the narrative with one of Jesus' most powerful statements: "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."

If Jesus isn't afraid to minister in a "lost" world, then why are so many of us "other Christs" holding back on our ministry in the same world?

(11-01-01)