No doubt he would have gone far if he had not gone bad. He had unlimited potential, except for the tragedy he inflicted upon himself.
Humble origins were betrayed by high-octane ambitions. He grew up in a humid little backwater, a couple of hours' drive from the tropical coastal city where every aspiring fellow hoped his ship would come in. Townspeople back home considered him the local success story until he went astray.
Of course his career didn't start out bad. He was somewhat different than the usual but on the fast track to success. He eagerly grasped the fame and wealth that one can expect with outstanding talent. After all, when he evaluated the lethargy of lesser competitors, it was easy to reason that he was worth all the extra money he paid himself beyond reasonable wages. He was unique, and others would soon discover his importance. As for those who failed to affirm his valuable labors, he would curse them or resort to force to obtain his objectives.
As a son of prominence in his small hometown, the embarrassment was keen when he turned away from his family's tradition of selfless service. It was particularly painful when he criticized those who remained within the frame work of traditional experience as being indolent, self-content, and self-satisfied.
He damned them as gluttons even as he robbed them. His arrogance was exceeded only by his greed.
But what's this? Now he seeks restoration. Now he says he wants again the faith of his father, parading across the same bridge he had tried to burn down. Now he wants to feel the warm embrace of the group he has so viciously attacked and robbed. He seeks acceptance and eagerly seeks reinstatement into the society whose doors he had shut against himself.
This is not his first time to demand reestablishment in his former spiritual community. In fact, on several occasions his rituals of self-reform have sparked skepticism; time after time he has proved his critics correct. Again and again he has disappointed those who hoped his conversion might be kosher.
In fact, these repeated failures have confirmed their concept of him as being incorrigible.
So what would make the difference this time? How can anyone certify this change as the real thing? What sets this latest episode apart from the opportunistic ventures that have grown out of his previous crusades to make things right with his family, his church, and his community?
He still resides in the luxurious house bought with funds stolen from those who trusted him most. He still operates his business as the same entrepreneurial genius he has prided himself to be. He still plies his trade and seeks to renovate his own kingdom even as he pursues restoration to the kingdom of grace.
So how could anyone trust this time to be different than all the others? The answer lies in that cryptic statement of Jesus, the teacher from Nazareth: "Therefore by their fruits you will know them" (Matt. 7:20). To which Ellen White comments:
"There is no evidence of genuine repentance unless it works reformation. If he restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, confess his sins,... such were the effects that in former years followed seasons of religious awakening. Judged by their fruits, they were known to be blessed of God in the salvation of men and the uplifting of humanity."*
Interesting statement. Penetrating insight. Conversion will be evidenced by fruit. The result of new life in Christ is a new life in the community. Lip service is real if and only if words are backed up with action. To talk the talk, you must walk the walk. Restoration follows reformation.
No wonder the converted thief Zacchaeus publicly announces: "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" (Luke 19:8, NIV).
No playing to the crowd.
No papering over past misbehavior with protests of good intentions.
Plain and simple, restoration means restoration four times over for Zacchaeus.
So it is that genuine conversion is confirmed by genuine restoration. If this means impoverishing himself or divesting himself of all he possesses, the reformed thief will recompense his victims.
Perhaps he cannot reclaim malicious words spoken, but he can surely repay looted lucre. Jesus works the miracle of salvation, and Zacchaeus responds with the miracle of restoration times four.
Christ was right! By their fruits you shall know them. The fruits of the Spirit are evidenced by Spirit-filled responses.
Not a bad example for those seeking restoration today!
* Ellen G. White,. The Great Controversy
(Boise: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1888), pp.