We decided to get a new rug for our breakfast room. I admit I was barely aware we had a breakfast room. But I knew I had agreed we needed a new table, and that meant we needed a new rug. Funny how these things interlock.
There is a store in Gaffney, my wife's hometown, that has hundreds of handmade Persian and Turkish rugs. What is the difference between a Persian rug and a Turkish rug? Turkish rugs are usually not made in Turkey but Iran. Persian rugs are often made in Pakistan or India. There are even some Persian and Turkish rugs made in Dalton, Georgia. It is not too far from Rome.
On a trip to the Upstate, we made a swing by the Rug Store. Rugs hung on enormous racks, thousands of rugs. A helpful sales lady asked, "What are you looking for?" We gave her the dimensions, and off we went into the racks.
I am better at knowing what I dislike than what I like. As we flipped over rug after rug, I saw some definite "Do not likes." As in hideous. As in, "Who in the world would buy a rug like that?" One was hot pink and orange. Looking at it made me queasy. Another was pale blue and pink. It looked like a gender-reveal event with an uncertain outcome. A black-and-white weave gave me a headache. Another rug was the color of the processed cow food I often write about. I am thinking, "Who in their right mind would buy something like this?"
After the eighth or ninth hideous rug flipped by, I said to the sales lady, "Who buys rugs this ugly?" She smiled and said, "Oh, you'd be surprised. We have a saying: Every rug has a home."
As we kept flipping past rugs, I thought back to what she said: Every rug has a home. I thought some of the rugs belonged in a home at the landfill. But something told me one man's revulsion is another woman's beauty.
There is a story about Jesus that is like this. If you grew up in church, you probably know it. Jesus was walking through the streets of Jericho. A throng of people surrounded him, with more lining the streets. A certain man, Zacchaeus, wanted to see Jesus, but because he was short, he could not get a clear view.
Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. Tax collectors in Palestine were not popular people. They were considered collaborators with the enemy (Rome). Tax collectors had to bid for their posts. They had to pay the Roman government a certain amount; anything they could squeeze out of people over that, they got to keep. It was a system open for corruption, and corrupt it was. A chief tax collector had become successful enough to bid for a larger area of collection. He would employ assistants to do the collections while he would manage the bribes and kickbacks. He would also consult with Roman officers about the deployment of troops to make sure people were paying.
Zacchaeus has power. Zacchaeus has money. But Zacchaeus knows he is missing something, and he has a hunch Jesus might have what he needs. So, Zacchaeus overcomes his vertical challenge and climbs a sycamore tree so he can see Jesus. To his utter amazement, Jesus stops underneath his tree and tells him to come down. Then, to the astonishment of the crowd, Jesus says, "I must stay at your house today."
It was unthinkable for a Jewish Rabbi to stay in the home of such a notorious traitor. But Jesus never let that stop him. I think he was saying to Zacchaeus, "Not only am I coming home with you, but there is a home for you with me."
These few words, coupled with the power of Jesus, changed Zacchaeus in an instant. He does come down and offers to pay back anything he stole and give away half his fortune to the poor. Impressive.
Jesus said, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man, too, is a son of Abraham." Salvation came because Jesus knew Zacchaeus belonged, even if Zacchaeus did not know it yet. Jesus finished by saying, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." Jesus wants all the rejected people to know he has come for them. He wants them to find hope, love, grace and peace.
I have a feeling if Jesus had been in the rug store, he might have said to the sales lady, "Gather up all the ugly rugs. I'll take them home with me. I have just the place for them. And yes, I will pay full price for them all."
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at email@example.com.
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