Easter is both wonderful and a bit strange as holidays go. Easter celebrations vary between families, cultures, and religious sects, from bunny rabbits hiding eggs to ham for dinner. And not everyone views Easter in the same way.
Admittedly, I base my understanding and celebration of Easter on what I believe to be true about God and Jesus Christ. Well, not entirely. I still like chocolate Easter bunnies, which has a rather weak connection to the story of why Christians celebrate Easter.
Gerald Weston of the Living Church of God shares an article on the church’s website titled Easter: The Untold Story. In his article, he shares a perspective on the origins of Easter. According to his research, Easter, like Christmas, is a Christian adaptation of non-Christian celebrations. Admittedly, it’s fascinating to learn where the idea of rabbits laying eggs originated. And chocolate Easter bunnies.
But what does Easter have to do with building bridges for racial reconciliation? Everything! But first, I want to talk about a man named Zacchaeus.
According to the writer of Luke, Jesus drew a crowd as he walked through the town of Jericho, where Zacchaeus lived and worked. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in that area and quite wealthy. But not well-liked (Luke 19:1-10).
Tax collectors worked on Rome’s behalf and earned their income by charging extra tax and pocketing the difference. It was the Roman Empire’s combo of a pyramid scheme and outsourcing. And it worked a lot like outsourcing does today. Zacchaeus had a vested interest in collecting as much tax as possible and had other tax collectors working for him. This put him at odds with the residents of Jericho.
We don’t know a lot about Zacchaeus, but the traditional interpretation of the story suggests that he was height-challenged. Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was in town, and he wanted to catch a glimpse, so he climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road to get a better view.
According to the story, when Jesus walked by the tree, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. And then Jesus invites Himself for supper. Zacchaeus was excited to host Jesus. But the people who witnessed this were not happy that Jesus planned to go home with Zacchaeus.
This is understandable. The wealth that made it possible for Zacchaeus to host Jesus came from the people of his community. But they weren’t invited. Why would Jesus choose to hang out with someone who exploited others for his own benefit?
And this brings me to bridge-building. Like Zacchaeus, a lot of us benefited from the exploitation of others. The history of slavery and the treatment of native Americans in this country is a history of exploitation. And our dependence on millions who work for wages that keep them in poverty continues today. As does systemic racism, which benefits white people at a cost to people of color.
The meeting between Jesus and Zacchaeus offers a lesson in bridge-building. We don’t know the details of their conversation, but we know the results. Zacchaeus agreed to give half of his wealth to those in need. And Zacchaeus decided to return money that he took in excess to the people he took it from. But not just the extra that he took. Zacchaeus promised to pay reparations of four times the amount taken.
Salvation has come to this home today…
What gain did Zacchaeus receive for his repentance and reparation? Jesus said to those listening and Zacchaeus, “Salvation has come to this home today” (Luke 19:9).
As Christians, we celebrate Easter as a reminder that Jesus died and resurrected. And our joy comes to us because, in His death, Jesus invites himself to supper with us. Not because we earned His invitation. Instead, we’re invited despite our unworthiness. And salvation is ours when we choose to accept His invitation.
Latasha Morrison writes in her book, Be the Bridge, that “Reconciliation requires truth-telling and empathy and tears. It requires changed perspectives and changing directions (also known as repentance). But ultimately, that change of direction requires righting the wrongs perpetrated.” 1
Like Zacchaeus, we exploit one another for our own gain. Like Zacchaeus, white men in particular benefit from the exploitation of people of color. Like Zacchaeus, Jesus calls us out by name and invites Himself to our homes in anticipation of our own confession and willingness to make reparations.
I pray that this Easter has special meaning for each and every one of us. And that Jesus will join your special dinner celebration. May it be a celebration of an opportunity to build bridges through repentance and reparations.
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1 Most of the content for our series comes from Latasha Morrison, Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation. Yates & Yates and Penguin Random House, 2019.