A Journey With God: Love Means Saying “I’m Sorry”
Let me start with this.Let me start with this.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the world’s most noted musicians, was the son of Leopold Mozart, himself a prominent musician of that day. Mozart, the son, when he was a teenager, was an arrogant punk who drove his parents crazy. He was given to carousing through much of the night. When he would finally stagger home in the wee hours of the morning, to irritate his father, he would sit down at the piano and slowly, spitefully play the scale, all but the final note. He would play “Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti …” and then he wouldn’t strike the final “Do.” He would do that several times, each time leaving the scale unfinished. Then he would stagger off to his room, knowing what would happen. His father, great musician that he was, hearing the scale, minus the final note, would twist and turn in his bed, unable to relax because the scale was not finished. Then, unable to stand it any longer, the father would crawl out of bed, stumble down the stairs and strike that final note. Only then could he relax and be at peace.
That speaks to me of the way we so often treat God. We play around with some of the notes of the faith, but we don’t play the full scale. We forgive, but not completely. We love, but not completely. We serve, but not completely. We accept Christ, but not completely. We live the Christian lifestyle, but not completely. And what’s so amazing is that even when we treat God shabbily, with patience and with grace, He continues to reach out to us and to love us! If you doubt that then all you have to do is look at Zaccheus.
Let me remind you of the story.
We read these words in Luke 19: “There was a man named Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.” In those days the Jewish people were taxed heavily in order to fuel the oppressive power of Rome. Worse still, the Romans paid Jews to do their dirty work as tax collectors. You can imagine then that Zaccheus, as a rich tax collector, would have been regarded with all of the affection accorded a Mafia don. Wherever he went, he would have been hissed and dissed. He would have been hated and reviled by the people. In fact, he would have been well advised to avoid large crowds and dark alleys. Scale out the value of a human being’s life and Zaccheus would have been ranked as the lowest of the low.
Then we are told that a celebrity was coming to Zaccheus’ hometown of Jericho. He was Jesus of Nazareth, a back-country preacher whose words were like fire, whose presence was commanding, whose touch was healing, and whose popularity was soaring. The fact that the streets were thronged with people only inflamed Zaccheus’ curiosity. He wanted to catch a glimpse of this wonder-worker who was stirring up such a fuss. However, we are told in the story that because Zaccheus was “short in stature” he couldn’t see above the heads of the crowd. So he ran to a nearby tree, and like a small boy, he clamored up into the tree, branch by branch, until he could see the procession. When Jesus saw him up in the tree, He called him by name, and He said: “Come on down, for today I am going to have lunch at your house.” My guess is that Zaccheus couldn’t believe his ears. After a lifetime of people avoiding him like the plague, suddenly someone wanted him. And my guess is that the crowd couldn’t believe their ears either. They would have been horrified. Jesus was going to dine at the home of “public enemy number one.”
Jesus was not put off by Zaccheus’ shortcomings. No one is ever beyond the reach of the redeeming touch of the Master’s hand. I love the way our Presbyterian Confession of Faith puts it: “As there is no sin so small but that it deserves damnation, so there is no sin so great that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.” And Zaccheus repented. He said: “Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything I will repay it fourfold.” What a change! You see, Zaccheus experienced the love, the acceptance, the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and it turned his life around.
By the way, the original Hebrew word for “repent” was “Hashivenu.” It was the word they used in the military for the command “about face.” That’s what happened to Zaccheus that day. He did an “about face.” His whole life changed direction. He was saying: “Lord, I am sorry for what I’ve been and what I’ve done. With your help, I am going to turn my life around. I want to be and to do better.” Hashivenu—about face! And Jesus said: “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Now let me remind you of what the story means.
Some years ago, there was a blockbuster movie called Love Story. In the movie, Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal were newlyweds. They had a bitter quarrel, angry words were spoken. Their spirits were wounded. Their feelings were hurt. Their relationship was strained. In pain, anger and frustration, they pulled back from one another. Then awkwardly, tentatively, they began to try to fix it. Ryan O’Neal was trying to figure out how to apologize when Ali McGraw interrupted him and said the words which became the marketing theme for the movie: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry!”
Well that sounds great. It has a nice sentimental ring to it and evidently it drew people to the box office. The problem is that it is just not true. The truth is that the ability to say “I’m sorry” is an essential ingredient of any love commitment. Saying “I’m sorry” means “I love you and I treasure our relationship.” Saying “I’m sorry” means “I care about you and I want things to be right with us.” Saying “I’m sorry” means “I cherish you and I didn’t mean to hurt you or disappoint you.” So love means being able to say “I’m sorry,” but what we learn from Zaccheus is that just saying the words is not enough. In addition, we have to make amends by fixing the problem and by changing the behavior that caused the problem in the first place.
Dr. John Taylor is a noted psychologist in Oregon who gives seminars for health professionals all across the United States. The title of his seminar is “The Art of Apologizing”—and it is his contention that the only way to deal with human imperfection in relationships is to learn how to properly and effectively apologize. He then gives what he calls “The Eight A’s for Apologizing.” Here they are:
- Admit your mistake.
- Account for the incident … telling why you behaved as you did. (e.g. “I realize now that I was wrong … I was only thinking of myself.”)
- Acknowledge the pain you’ve caused.
- Apologize for hurting the other person.
- Ask for forgiveness … recognizing that we don’t have a right to demand forgiveness; we can only humbly ask for it.
- Affirm the preciousness of the friendship and how you want so much for it to continue.
- Amend the situation by doing everything you can to fix the problem.
- Adjust your behavior so the problem doesn’t happen again.
Dr. John Taylor, in a contemporary way, underscores the basic truth we encounter repeatedly in the Bible, but particularly in the story of Zaccheus. “Love means being able to say: ‘I’m sorry.’”
Did you hear that story about the little boy who turned in his first English composition? It was his first effort at cursive writing. The teacher looked over his work and noticed that at one place he forgot to put a dot over an “I.” She said: “Tommy, look here. Where’s the dot over the “I”? Tommy replied: “It’s still in the pencil.” Well, if you’ll pardon the pun, the Christian faith says to us: Get the lead out when it comes to saying “I’m sorry.” Don’t leave your apologies unexpressed. Don’t leave your “I’m sorry’s” in the pencil.
My friends, if you’ve wandered away from God and you’re caught up in some secret sin that’s keeping you away from Him, then you need to say today: “Lord, I’m sorry; forgive me.” If you need to mend a broken relationship with any other human being in the world, then don’t wait—go fix that today. If you have hurt someone or disappointed someone or let somebody down or even inadvertently been misunderstood by someone, don’t let another moment pass—go make amends and set things right. Go say “I’m sorry and I want things to be right with us.” But you may say: “But it really wasn’t my fault.” Well, it may not be your fault but as a Christian it is your responsibility to work to make things right. For their sake, for your sake, for the Lord’s sake, go fix it. Love means being able to say “I’m sorry” to God and to the people around us. That, I think, is what the story of Zaccheus really means.
Now let me finish with this.
In his book The Everest Within, Rod Wilmoth tells us that in Scotland there is a lighthouse called “Old William’s Light.” The man who kept that light would come in twice a week, once to get groceries and once to go to church. But one day he did not show up at his regular time. There had been a bad storm the night before, so his friends were worried about him. They went out to the lighthouse and found him there unconscious. He had slipped on the rocks and shattered his leg. But he knew that the light needed to be lit that night, so he had agonizingly crawled up the long spiral stairs to the top in order to turn on the light. Then he had collapsed in pain and exhaustion. Because of his weakened condition, he contracted pneumonia and later died in the hospital. After his funeral, a man came and said: “I want to build a memorial to that light-keeper. I was the captain of a ship caught in the storm that night. In the ferocity of the storm I lost my bearings. We were headed for the rocks. But then suddenly the light came on and we were able to steer to safety.” And then he said: “This is the first time in my life I can truly say that somebody died in order that I might live.”He was wrong, of course, because 2000 years ago on a hill called Calvary, Jesus Christ died so that we could live. He preached love. He stood tall for what is right. Then He climbed up on that cross to die so that you and I might live—live now and live forever. Jesus said it Himself: “I have come to seek and to save the lost.” He came to offer us love, acceptance, forgiveness, new hope, and new life. If today you respond by surrendering your life to Jesus and receiving Jesus joyfully in your heart, then you will hear the most magnificent words any human being can hear:
“Today, salvation has come to your heart.”