For Sunday October 30th, 2016
Lectionary Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, Year C)
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 119: 137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Remember Zacchaeus? The little guy who shimmied up a tree? Raise your hand if "Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he," is already playing in your head. I've had the Sunday School song stuck in mine all week.
Let's face it: this week's Gospel story is so familiar, it's difficult to read with fresh eyes. For years now, I've considered it a piece of Gospel lite. A children's story that's cute and funny, but irrelevant to adult life.
How ironic, given that the story is all about seeing. In an attempt to challenge my own jaded perception, I spent the week breaking the lection up line by line and reading each piece independently, probing for questions that might pertain to my life with God. If you'll indulge me, I'll replicate the process for you. Not every question below will crack the story open for you, but one or two of them might; they did for me. As it turns out, there's a lot to ponder in this "mere" children's story.
Once there was a man who wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way. Can you relate already? When was the last time your desire for Jesus felt desperate? How long has it been since you last noticed "the crowd?" The obstacles, the distractions, the old assumptions and failures that block your vision of the Divine?
The man's desperation drove him ahead of the crowd and up into the branches of a sycamore tree, where he hoped to catch a glimpse of Jesus when he passed by. Have you admitted recently that your spiritual vision is limited? Recognized that you need a new angle, a new perspective? Have you ever done something playful and undignified for the sake of your faith? Or waited in an unfamiliar place for however long it takes, trusting that Jesus will come your way eventually?
When Jesus passed under the tree, he looked up and said, "Hurry down, Zacchaeus, for I must stay at your house today." Do you know that you are sought? That your pursuit of God is the surest sign of his pursuit of you? When did you last hurry in your spiritual life, your urgency for God driving you out of hiding? When did you last host Jesus in your own home — allowing him to open closed doors, see your intimate places, touch your prized possessions, and explore those grimy corners he deliberately didn't give you time to clean up before he visited? How well have you understood that you will never see anything worth seeing in this life, unless you allow yourself to be seen, too?
The man scrambled out of the tree with delight, filled with joy to take Jesus home with him. If you could characterize your faith life in one word, would that word be joy? Sure, you worship God, you honor God, you love God. But does God tickle you pink? Does the mere thought of him put a smile on your face? When did Jesus last delight your soul?
The crowd was indignant and grumbled, “What business does Jesus have getting cozy with a sinner?” But the man stood his ground, saying, "Master, I give away half my income to the poor — and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.” Have you ever held a person hostage to a version of himself he's striving to outgrow? Have you ever refused a person the permission to change, knowing that if she changes, you'll have to change, too? Has God ever asked you to stand your ground and tell a new story about yourself — one your listeners have high stakes in resisting? When did your faith last call you to face with humility the people you have wounded? The spiritual life is evolutionary to its core — "change or die" is its bottom line. Are you okay with that?
Then Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For I have come to seek and to save the lost.” When were you last lost? When were you last found? What has Jesus named you? Before you are anything, anyone, anyone's — you are God's. Do you believe this?
I don't know about you, but I'm shaken by the questions this simple Gospel story raises. Having grown up in the Church, steeped in Scripture and surrounded by the trappings of Christianity, I tend to assume that I can see myself, Jesus, and other people fairly clearly. I don't go around looking for sycamore trees to climb. But Zacchaeus's story gives me pause, because it's all about accepting the smallness of my vision. About the courage it takes to recognize who and what I really am in relation to God: small, limited, lost, sought, found, and saved. And about becoming vulnerable before the very people I have hurt as a result of my impoverished perspective, so that our mutual transformation can do its painful, joy-making work. There's nothing childish about this story at all, except perhaps my tendency to run away from its implications.
In his collection of essays, Weight of Glory, C.S Lewis reminds us of the high stakes involved in our seeing: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal."
How different my life would be if I lived it as Lewis describes! To see ourselves as Jesus sees us is to glimpse the extraordinary and the immortal at all times. It's a breathtaking possibility, one I can hardly wrap my mind around. But it's precisely the kind of seeing we are called to in this life.
If you doubt it, then consider this: even after Zacchaeus took the bold step of climbing a tree to better his vision, Jesus called for more. "Come down," Jesus said. Come down, come here, come closer. I have even greater treasures saved up for you. We climb the tree, in other words, only to climb back down at his invitation. We peek from a distance only to prepare ourselves to stand before him face to face. We run ahead of him only because we forget who and what we truly are. As soon as we remember, we discover the amazing truth that Zacchaeus discovered: Jesus has already followed us home.