In our previous blog, The Meaning of Reconciliation, we presented the idea that forgiveness is instant and reconciliation is a process. We then described the steps of the process to enable reconciliation:
- recognition of the truth in the situation,
- confession of that truth, and
- repentance or walking in a new direction.
In this blog we’ll highlight three reconciliation models from scripture that provide examples to illustrate these steps. While there are many possibilities, Zaccheus, Joseph (Old Testament one) and Saul/Paul of Tarsus are excellent examples of the reconciliation process in action. To minimize the length of this blog, we’ll limit our scripture references and simply point to the places in scripture where you can find their stories. However, it would be a great idea for you to read them as you reflect to allow these reconciliation models to take root in your heart (and also ensure we’re not making the stories up – LOL).
Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1 – 9)
Tax collectors in Israel during the time of Jesus were some of the most despised people in the nation. They had the dreaded task of extracting tax payments from Jewish citizens on behalf of their Roman occupiers and frequently took more than what was owed, pocketing some for themselves. What often made the situation worse is that they were Jews themselves and were seen by their fellow Jews as traitors to the Romans. Zacchaeus was one such scoundrel.
To summarize the story, one day Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was coming through his neighbourhood and being a short man, he decided to climb a tree to get a better look at this unique visitor. Here is the beginning of step one, he is recognizing that there is something significant about Jesus and he wants to get a good vantage point (and likely listening post) to get a bit closer to the Nazarene. Jesus surprises him (and likely everybody else) by calling out his name and inviting himself over for dinner to Zacchaeus’ house, who gladly accepts the invitation.
It is important to note that at this point Zacchaeus has no idea why Jesus is coming over (other than for food). He clearly felt accepted by Jesus calling his name publicly. The visit could be anything from a basic pit stop to a stern lecture about his crookedness or even an impromptu house meeting for whoever else shows up. However, Zacchaeus has no intention to wait to find out and before Jesus can say anything more he very quickly addresses him as “Lord, Lord”, pledges half of his possessions to the poor and offers to repay anyone he has stolen from four times the amount stolen. This is acceleration through the steps of reconciliation!
- Step 1 – He acknowledges the truth of the situation (Jesus is Lord. I am a thief).
- Step 2 – He confesses both truths (“Lord, Lord”, “If I have stolen…”).
- Step 3 – He repents and moves in a different direction (gives away half of his possessions and offers to repay four times what he has stolen).
All of this was done publicly. This prompted a pronouncement from Jesus of salvation coming to his household and also a statement that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham. Reconciliation to Jesus and to the Jewish community at the same time!
A quick note for those thinking about Zacchaeus saying “If I have stolen…” and wondering if this was a true confession. The actions that followed this statement would indicate there was no “If” or doubt in Zacchaeus’ mind that he had been a thief. Also, note the people observing Jesus going to his house for dinner muttered that “He is going to the house of a sinner”. Finally, perhaps he had lost count who he had stolen from and the “If” was an invitation to come and claim their repayment? Regardless, there was no doubt about his thieving or about Jesus accepting him.
Joseph (Genesis 37 – 44)
We pick up the story of Joseph when he was but a lad of seventeen, greatly favoured over his ten brothers by his father Jacob. They so despised him that they hatched a plot to do away with him, originally plans of murder but ultimately selling him to slave traders who took him to Egypt to sell him on the slave market. His original master was Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard whom Joseph served well, eventually rising to running his entire household until he was falsely accused of sexual assault by Potiphar’s wife. After being sent to prison, he again prospered in the jail, essentially administrating the entire prison. After interpreting some dreams of ex-employees (butler and baker) of Pharaoh’s court while in prison, he eventually interprets Pharaoh’s dream of the seven cows and seven heads of grain and is appointed second only to Pharaoh in running the affairs of Egypt. (For more on the implications and insights of this phase of Joseph’s life see our Space Invaders – Part 2 blog.)
Fast forward to the arrival of the famine foreshadowed by Pharaoh’s dream as interpreted by Joseph, by now a grown man. The entire world was suffering under it but Egypt was prospering because of Joseph’s strategy of storing grain during the seven years of plenty to provide for the seven years of famine. As Prime Minister of Egypt, Joseph presided over the entire food operation, ensuring his recommended strategy was carried out. Enter his 10 brothers, arriving in Egypt looking for food to feed their families back home in Canaan. They end up appearing before the one they had betrayed, without knowing the Prime Minister of Egypt they were standing before was their very own brother.
Imagine the feelings Joseph had at this moment. Revenge? Compassion? Anger? Forgiveness? Careful reading of the story is required here. Based on the end of the story, it is very likely that Joseph longed for reconciliation as soon as he saw his family. Perhaps more importantly, he longed to see his father again. However, if there was to be full reconciliation, some specific steps were going to be necessary.
The entire episode with the accusation of his brothers as spies, grain in their sacks, money returned to the sacks, apparent stealing of Joseph’s cup, threatening to keep Benjamin as a prisoner, etc. was entirely manufactured by Joseph to see what was in the heart of his brothers. He had heard them talking to each other well before they had returned to Egypt a second time with Benjamin, confessing that they had sinned in what they had done to Joseph in selling him into slavery. However, he still did not move to reconcile with them until he had confirmed that true anguish and sorrow was in their hearts for what they had done to their father through faking Joseph’s death. He also waited to see fruit of repentance in the brothers who eventually offered to take Benjamin’s place as a slave in Joseph’s household, which was evidence that they understood the pain the loss of Benjamin would be to their father Jacob. The person who volunteered as a slave would be giving up their life for Benjamin. This was no small deal. The emotion and grief in Joseph, his brothers and even Jacob is dripping from this portion of the story and is well worth reviewing and meditating on.
All three steps in the reconciliation process can be seen in this story.
- Step 1 – recognition of the truth (heard in the brothers confessing their actions).
- Step 2 – confession of the truth (not only heard in their confession to each other but also in their statements about the anguish of their father Jacob about the loss of his son Joseph and confession about Joseph’s cup being wrongly in their possession).
- Step 3 – repentance and walking in a new direction (Judah offering to step in for Benjamin and also no more trickery or self-preservation to get out of the predicament they were in).
Joseph, satisfied that his brothers were truly aware of what they had done, confessed their sin and also changed their behaviour, exploded in emotion and fully reconciled with them. Having been reconciled to his entire family, he then went further to bless them all in every way he could for the rest of his life. Ultimately, Joseph was not just interested in forgiveness and reconciliation with the specific perpetrators of the wrongs committed against him but his entire family, the patriarch Jacob and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This was costly but well worth it to all of them and the generations that followed.
Saul/Paul of Tarsus – Acts 9 and forward
Finally, we’ll look at Saul (original Hebrew name) or Paul (Greek version of his name), the apostle to the Gentiles and writer of a good chunk of the New Testament. He was raised a Pharisee, zealous for the law of God and an expert in all of the Hebrew scripture (what we now call the Old Testament). As a leading Pharisee in the earliest days of the church in Jerusalem, he saw the followers of Jesus as a threat to the Jewish religion and enthusiastically persecuted them to the point of being present at the stoning of Stephen (some historians believe he presided over it). As he set out to continue his persecution beyond Judea, he was dramatically confronted by the Lord on the road to Damascus. Blinded by the encounter with the brilliant manifestation of Jesus before him, he was converted and became an ardent follower of Jesus himself, eventually teaching a much different message to what he had believed as a Pharisee, taking the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles (Greek world). He came to be known as Paul (his Greek name) because of his calling to the Gentiles.
How would he be forgiven and ultimately reconciled to the people he had previously persecuted? Most of the Jesus followers initially didn’t believe he was a true convert. Would a heart felt “Sorry” be enough? Perhaps the Jesus followers would need to “turn their love button on”? Wasn’t the grace of God enough to trust him? No, if true reconciliation was to occur, much more would have to happen.
Admittedly, uncovering the chronological story of Paul requires piecing together Luke’s account in the book of Acts as well as the various snippets from Paul’s writing’s themselves. In summary, Paul first openly confessed his newfound belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and his resurrection from the dead as proof, met with Peter to review his first hand knowledge and quickly began to teach/preach to others about Jesus. During this time he openly confessed his previous wrongs in persecuting other believers and also recounted his divine encounter on the Damascus road and personal rebuke from Jesus himself. Finally, he frequently pointed to his life of suffering and persecution as evidence of his conversion and apostleship (another blog on it’s own). His life was an ongoing process of reconciliation first to Peter, James and the other leaders and then to the wider group of believers in Jerusalem and eventually to the entire body of Christ. Once they heard his confession and experienced his repentance through his changed life, they were fully reconciled to their previous enemy.
Again, the steps of reconciliation are evident in the life of Paul.
- Step 1 – recognition of the truth (Damascus confrontation and conversion).
- Step 2 – confession of the truth (repeated proclamation of Jesus as Messiah and his previous life as a persecutor).
- Step 3 – repentance and walking in a new direction (consistent teaching, preaching and suffering in his new life).
All of this resulted in his complete reconciliation to those he had previously persecuted. Note that in this case the original persecution was very public as was the reconciliation process.
In summary, the stories of Zacchaeus, Joseph and Paul are reconciliation models that demonstrate a process that has identifiable steps, in some cases takes considerable time and is costly. None of these processes could have occurred without a foundation and commitment to forgiveness to enable the steps to occur. However, in each case, the decision to forgive was made in a moment of time (in some or all of these examples perhaps well before the reconciliation process even began) while the full completion of reconciliation happened over a period of time.
Perhaps you have been offended or hurt by another. Are you willing to make the decision to forgive? Are you also willing to endure the full process (often painful and emotion-filled) of reconciliation? If you are the offender, are you willing to walk through a process to experience full reconciliation with those you have offended? Is the embrace at the end worth the cost of the process to get there?
“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, despising its shame…” – Hebrews 12:2
Great grace upon us all,
John and Katherine Matthews