Unexpected Evidence for the Divinity of Jesus — All the Way from Oman!

It’s sometimes amazing what we can learn when we look through someone else’s eyes.

Recently, on a trip to the Middle East, I was told of a group of Omani Muslim men who gathered together to hear stories of Jesus read to them from the New Testament. Without any extra commentary, they were asked to share what struck them most about Jesus in these stories.oman

Before sharing further, I must let you know that the culture of the Omani people (and those of the other peoples of the Arabian peninsula and traditional Middle East are far closer to the customs and habits of the people of Jesus’ day than perhaps any other cultures existing today (certainly closer than that of modern-day America).

In this particular instance, the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zaccheus was read (Luke 19:1-10). We are typically startled by Jesus’ willingness to fellowship with a chief tax-collector, who although a Jew ethnically was considered by his own people to be a traitor in league with the Romans and a swindler whose wealth was made on the backs of his townsfolk. It’s no surprise that this encounter seems scandalous to our sensibilities, but that’s what we love about Jesus – his love is not just for the respectable, but for the tarnished. Some of us take great hope in such grace.

The Omani Muslims also expressed their astonishment at the scandal of this story. But for them the source of scandal was different. When asked what they learned of Jesus, one of the men remarked that he couldn’t believe the impudence of Jesus; the other men added their agreement. omani majlisWhen asked to explain, he said, “In our culture, what Jesus did was extremely rude. No one has the right to invite himself into the home of another. We honor hospitality, but never do we presume upon another’s kindness. Their home is theirs to offer, not ours to demand. Even the chief of a tribe has no right to demand the hospitality of his members. Even the king of the land cannot force one of his subjects to host him. A man’s home belongs to him alone and no one can invade it on his own authority – he must wait to be invited. The only one who could rightly do something like this is God, because everything in the end belongs to Him!”

As these words hung in the air, the import of what he had said began to sink in on the hearts of the Omanis. Maybe this Jesus was not just a man, even a human king. Maybe, just maybe, he had the right to demand Zaccheus’ hospitality, because maybe, just maybe, He was….

Perhaps we have much to learn from traditional Middle Eastern culture when it comes to understanding the message of the Bible. As we approach the Christmas season and hear once again the mind-boggling story that for the salvation of sinners God became a human being in the baby known as Jesus, we are reminded of the many evidences strewn throughout the New Testament of this incredible truth – Jesus’ claims to fulfill prophecy, his certainty of equality with his Father, his miracles accomplishing what only God can do, his appeal to his own authority in decreeing what is right and wrong in human behavior, his love for the outcast and unloved, and his willingness to sacrifice himself for sinners who clamored for his death. All these truths we point to regularly as reminders of Jesus’ divinity, that God became incarnate in a real human being, a Jewish baby who grew to become a man of certain weight, hair color, speaking Aramaic with a Galilean accent, who endured in his own body and soul the weight of the sins of the world while he hung up a cross, and allowed that incarnate life to slowly drain out of his human body.

For over forty years I have studied the Bible to learn more of the uniqueness of Jesus as God’s appointed Savior for the human race. But until last month, I had never encountered evidence for the divinity of Jesus based on an “argument from hospitality”!Zaccheus.jpg

“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” An act of impudence, even rudeness, from Jesus? Or the declaration of God incarnate, enacting His will to rescue a Jewish tax-collector whose hope for heaven had long since grown cold? Zaccheus’ response hints at the right answer: “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 response, Jesus speaks with the authority of the Supreme Potentate of the eternal kingdom: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham….”

I thank God for those Omani Muslims and the innocent insight they brought to this all-too-familiar text! I pray they come to discover the full import of the life of the One they are studying.

I have so much to learn.

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9 Responses to Unexpected Evidence for the Divinity of Jesus — All the Way from Oman!

  1. Dave Moody says:

    Wow! Thanks Mateen. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Faye Smith says:

    Love this story

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Phyllis Sperber says:

    Thank you for sharing this insight, your words speak volumes to me. Always. Bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Keith Turnbull says:

    I would have liked to be a fly on the wall for that event. I can’t imagine that there would not have been further conversation about the clues that Zacchius gave that he was extremely eager to learn more of Jesus. (A grown man climbing up in a tree to get a better view! He ran ahead! How undignified! He may have been panting still, as I can see a humorous note in Jesus asking him to “hurry” in coming down.) Would such factors not be considered as extenuating circumstances? Still, I understand their astonishment at the unmitigated gall of anyone presuming on the hospitality of another.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mateenelass says:

      I agree, Keith, there are so many tantalizing directions to go with teaching this account, but I never would have come up with this angle on the divinity of Jesus from the story of Zaccheus!


  5. The Rev'd Neal Humphrey says:

    I agree that the Zaccheus narrative reports Jesus’ remarkable violation of hospitality conventions. What I have never seen observed, although I’m sure someone has noted it, is that Zaccheus was probably the most hated man in Damascus, or at least near the top of the list. He was a collaborator with the Romans working as a contractor exacting taxes that paid for the imperial occupation with no benefits for the taxed. There is no mention in the narrative of Zaccheus’ security. I think that omission is deliberate because the tax collector was so intrigued by Jesus he left his guards behind. And then he’s so attracted to Jesus and his message that he forgets himself and climbs a tree for a better view! Zaccheus was totally exposed to a crowd that had to be made up of mostly enemies.

    The situation explains why Jesus stepped over the hospitality line and invited himself into Zaccheus’ household for a meal.

    If you’ll permit a slight eisegesis, I believe Jesus’ reaction to the fecklessness of Zaccheus’ action was protective: “Hey Zach! Are you out of your mind! Get down out of that tree before someone drags you down! And not incidentally, I’ll have dinner with you just to show the crowd I love and accept you in spite of what I know about you.” Zaccheus realized his peril and was grateful. Jesus used a unique approach to the vile tax collector that transformed the man.


    • mateenelass says:

      Neal, it seems hardly likely to me that Zaccheus could have “forgotten” his peril, if indeed he had guards and was in fear of his life day in and day out. There is no question that he was a despised man, as the NT makes clear elsewhere about the category of tax collectors — and he was a chief tax collector, to boot. I do agree with you that Jesus is proactive in showing his acceptance of Zaccheus publicy. But that happens when he addresses Zaccheus publicly by name. To invite himself over to Zaccheus’ home is indeed a step beyond cultural acceptability.


  6. Love this beautiful story. Details come through in vivid technicolor when we look from the eyes of an Easterner! The Bible is beautiful in so many ways and is alive and active in those who will listen.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: The Main Course of Christmas | the personal blog of Mateen Elass

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