Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’”
At the beginning of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge is not the sort of person I’d like to be. According to Dickens’ classic description, Scrooge was “a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” He was also wealthy, with riches earned in many cases by mistreating those less fortunate than him. Yet, because of the intervention of supernatural spirits, Scrooge is ultimately transformed. At the end of Stave (Chapter) Four, the final ghost, representing the future, finishes his renewing work and dwindles “down to a bedpost.”
Stave Five of A Christmas Carol chronicles the effect of this transformation. It begins this way: “YES! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!” In his new condition, not only would Scrooge be able to live joyfully, but also he would have a chance to “make amends,” to make right what he had done wrong, to treat well those he had mistreated, to care for those in need whom he had once scorned. The bulk of Stave Five shows some of the ways that Scrooge did indeed make amends, focusing mainly on his relationship with his employee, Bob Cratchit, and Bob’s family.
As I read the final stave of A Christmas Carol, I think of another man whose life was rather like that of Ebenezer Scrooge. Zacchaeus, the first-century Jewish tax collector had made his riches by taking advantage of those from whom he collected taxes, charging them more than was necessary or just. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, Zacchaeus was transformed by supernatural intervention. Zaccheaus was not visited by fictional ghosts, however, but by Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God. As a result of this visitation, Zaccheaus realizes that he has been living wrongly and he promises to make amends: “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much” (Luke 19:8).
You and I can keep Christmas well by making amends. I’m not suggesting that, like Scrooge and Zacchaeus, we have become rich by defrauding others, though we ought to make sure that our work is shaped by God’s justice. But I expect that most of us have people in our lives whom we have wronged in some way, and who have yet to receive appropriate restitution. Perhaps, like Scrooge and Zacchaeus, we have been less generous than we ought to be and it’s time to make amends by sharing our blessings with others. Perhaps we can participate in making right larger wrongs in our society, addressing systemic unfairness as a way of seeking divine justice.
Like Zaccheaus, we are enabled and inspired to make amends not because of something inherently good in ourselves; rather, we are transformed through an encounter with Jesus Christ. When we grasp the wonder of his grace, the fact that he made amends on our behalf through offering his life for us, we are moved and set free to become people of generosity and justice.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
As you think about your life, are there people to whom you ought to make amends? If so, how might you reach out to them in order to make things right?
How does the fact that Christ “made amends” on your behalf motivate you to similarly for others?
In what ways can you, through your leadership, advance the cause of God’s justice?
Gracious God, thank you for meeting us where we are. Thank you for encountering us in our sin. Thank you for Christ, who “made amends” for us through the cross. Thank you for the chance we have to let this action move us to imitation.
Help me, Lord, to see where and how I can make amends. Show me where I can and should reach out in humility, to offer an apology, to make right what was wrong. Give me the courage to do this as an expression not of guilt but of gratitude for all you have done for me. Amen.