I’m going to break some social rules and blog about an episode of LOST (yet again) that is not the most recent one that aired. But I have not been able to get pasted the episode from March 9th called “Dr. Linus.” I hardly ever guess where they are taking the show before the episode begins, but I’ve got to say I had a sneaking suspicion that they were going to try to redeem the most despicable character from the first 5 seasons played by Michael Emerson, Benjamin Linus. He was island-enemy number one for so long, redeeming someone as bad as Ben Linus is, in my opinion, one of the gutsiest moves in the history of television.
For those of you who don’t know, Benjamin Linus is a character on LOST who killed his own father, murdered an entire village of people (as opposed to The Village People), was responsible for his daughter’s murder, strangled John Locke and stabbed the deity figure, Jacob, to death. He lies, steals and does whatever he needs to do to manipulate people. A key moment in his life came when Ben got a tumor on his spine. One of the characters that crashed on the island, Jack Shepherd, “happened” to be a spinal surgeon, but was also Ben’s enemy. Ben was asked how he intended to get Jack to operate on his tumor-choked spine. He said, “Same way I get anybody to do anything. I find out what he’s emotionally invested in and I exploit it.” It appeared at this point in LOST as if his conniving character was innate and unchangeable. Benjamin Linus was just an evil person.
But in an unthinkable turn of events, the writers of LOST did something that I would label “Jesus-esque” by making Ben a redeemable character. In Luke 19:1-10, there is a despicable little man that I picture looking a lot like Michael Emerson named Zacchaeus. Sure, Zacchaeus never killed an entire village of people that we know of, but he did oppress an entire city by strangling them financially to the benefit of their enemies. His, too, is story of a man who had exploited the people around him for his entire life. Being a chief tax collector meant that he stole money from the local people to send back to Rome so that they could continue to oppress the local people with their armies and laws. But this man who had been a thief, swindler and traitor for his entire life was intrigued by the possibility of being someone different. When Jesus comes to town, he becomes undignified and climbs up into a tree (which was not acceptable behavior for males in this culture). I think Zacchaeus was probably as pitiful and desperate as Benjamin Linus was in this episode a few weeks ago. So when Jesus speaks to him out of the entire crowd, he must have melted.
Luke 19:5-10 says, “When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ “Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”” (Emphasis Mine)
In literary form, the story of Zacchaeus is told in the form of a miracle story because it was nothing short of one. Notice that Jesus’ acceptance of Zacchaeus is unconditional. Not only does Jesus accept Zacchaeus, but he “must” stay at his house (must is an imperative). Jesus makes it clear in this story that his mission to seek out and save those who were lost. He came to bring good news to the poor, to release the captives and bring recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free. (see Luke 4:18-21) And this type of redemption never sits well with the crowd (as you’ll see if you watch the end of the clip from LOST with Ben on the outside of the group he exploited so long even after receiving grace).
But what does Christ ask from us in return? He asks us to repent (turn in a new direction) and to accept his grace humbly. Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” And that is why the Gospel is often referred to as the “Good News.” It is Good News that someone as despicable as Zacchaeus, or Benjamin Linus, could be redeemed. It is Good News that someone as despicable and fallen as myself could receive grace as well. And I think this is why the episode “Dr. Linus” has resonated so deeply within me. I know that I have used people for what I can get from them far too many times in my life. I know that I am not worthy of the free gift of redemption. So I challenge you to watch this clip (by clicking on the link below labeled “Dr. Linus Ending”) of Benjamin Linus being tempted to continue in his sinful ways, but choosing to have a broken spirit and, in turn, experiencing true redemption.