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Hacking at the leaves of evil

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

Thoreau once said, “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil there is one striking at the root.”

It seems to me that more and more Christians are hacking at the leaves of evil and forgetting to strike at the root. We are getting entranced by good causes that oftentimes leave the root, the real source of the problem, untouched. While slashing at leaves can be impressive and leave piles of leafy accomplishment if the root is untouched the hacking is simply a pruning that will produce more leaves to hack at the end of the day.

Let me put it plainly, Jesus told us to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations” not “Go into all the world to eradicate poverty and social injustices.” Because Jesus knew that these kinds of efforts by themselves were at best hacking at the leaves of evil.

Jesus understood that the real problem with the world was not physical. It wasn’t a lack of food or shelter or water. THE REAL PROBLEM WAS A LACK OF JESUS!!!

Jesus knew that if passionate disciples were developed and deployed into every corner of the planet that the other problems would be addressed as well. Why? Because fully surrendered followers of Christ have a heart for the homeless and the poor and the marginalized. They won’t say to a hungry neighbor, “Be warmed and filled” without backing it up with a blanket and a sandwich.

What is the real key to social justice, issues of poverty, stopping human trafficking and taking care of the planet that God put us on? In a word…Jesus!

Now before you ride me off as “true but trite” consider the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus.

Luke 19:1-5 communicates the story vividly and powerfully, “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up….”

Jesus looked up and spotted Zacchaeus, a tax collector, hovering on the branch of a Sycamore tree. Now you have to know something about tax collectors in this culture. They took money from their fellow Jews and gave it to the enemy, the ruling and ruthless Roman Empire. They were considered the worst of sinners and traitors to their own people.

They were notorious for overcharging their own people and skimming the excess cash to get rich. So, not only were they considered traitors, but thieving traitors. The average Jew considered the average tax collector a few notches below a prostititute or a leper.

But Jesus, from the base of a fig tree, had a different point of view when it came to this stature-challenged tax man. Jesus looked past his fancy clothes and opulent lifestyle into a heart that was longing for real fulfillment and lasting hope. Jesus knew that, while Zacchaeus may have been short in stature, he was tall on faith. He had enough faith to humilate himself by climbing a fig tree just to catch a glimpse of the real game changer, Jesus Christ.

It all started when Jesus was travelling in a caravan of excited followers. He looked up at this precarious man perched in the twisted branches of a Sycamore tree and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’”

Zacchaeus had been a tool of the Roman system to abuse the Jews. He overtaxed both rich and poor so that he would be rich, not poor. How dare this rogue rabbi reach out to this terrible tax collector! No wonder the crowd was upset!

Jesus didn’t even confront him over the way he was abusing the Jews or taking advantage of the poor. He didn’t accuse him of working for a totalitarian government that oppressed millions all over the world. Instead he said, “I must stay at your house today.” While this may not seem significant to us it was very significant in this culture to invite yourself over to someone’s house. This was a sign of 100% acceptance and Jesus was accepting Zacchaeus because he saw 100% faith in his heart.

The crowd may have been expecting Jesus to rebuke this tax collector or, better yet, strike him with a lightning bolt for all the injustices he had committed. Instead Jesus offered him the hope that comes from the gospel. Why? Because Jesus knew that the only thing that could really fix the injustices Zacchaeus had committed was a spiritual transformaton!

Look at Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus in Luke 19:8, “But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.'” In that moment Jesus changed everything. He hacked at the root of evil and the leaves of evil died. He presented the hope that comes through faith in him and it changed the nature of Zacchaeus and, as a result, he gave half of his possessions to the poor whom he had robbed. The injustices were fixed because Zacchaeus got saved!

If we really want to be game changers we must strike at the root of evil in the hearts of others by sharing the good news. Those who respond will become game changers in the process. They will correct injustices, feed the poor and take care of God’s green earth. But, most importantly, they will make disciples who make disciples.

Are you merely hacking at the leaves of evil with your activism? Are you ready to strike at the root? If so check out and follow the links to the “Live THE Cause” podcast series. You will learn how to make an earthly and eternal difference through developing and deploying spiritual game changers into every corner of the planet.

Time to sharpen our spiritual machetes and start hacking at the root of evil.

Unlikely Fighter

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