Seeing and being seen
Yesterday in church, Zacchaeus showed up. (If you missed it, or want a refresher, read his story below.) I preached a homily about him, and I heard an even better homily from my colleague, Tim Meyers. We were channeling the same spiritual muse, focusing on who Zacchaeus seeks, and who is seeking him.
The nineteenth chapter of Luke is Zacchaues’ fifteen minutes of fame. We don’t hear from him again. Sunday School grads may know the cute song about a wee little man who climbed up in the sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see. It makes him sound adorable, a biblical leprechaun. But it doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that the guy was kind of a jerk.
I’ve been familiar with the story for a long time, but I tried to see it in a new way. Luke tells us Zacchaeus was “trying to see Jesus.” I suspect that’s true for a lot of us. This story describes that desire to see Jesus, and makes us think about things that keep that from happening.
For Zacchaeus, climbing that tree, there were plenty of obstructions, starting with his physical stature. He was short. Nothing he could do about that, a random fact of life that nevertheless presented challenges. Maybe we’ve experienced fateful circumstances that block spiritual vision.
Then there was the fact that he was in a profession that made him unpopular, that choices he made may have set him apart from the crowd. Maybe there are choices we’ve made that get in the way of our spiritual perspective.
He was rich, and Luke reminds us again and again that while wealth can be used well, but it can also be a spiritual distraction, even a trap.
And there was his history of ripping people off. Maybe there are things we’ve done that we ought not to have done. The need to be forgiven and the need to forgive may act like blinders, may block our vision.
Again, Zacchaeus gets just a cameo role, which invites us to bring our imagination to his story. As I meet with people around the church, I often ask what is getting in the way of deeper life with God, discipleship of Jesus, the power of the Spirit. Often, the obstruction is a crisis, random challenges that block a vision of God’s grace, things over which we have no power. Sometimes it’s the things we have done, the inability to extend mercy to ourselves or others. Sometimes it’s the disappointment in what others have done, especially failures of the church. It can start to feel hopeless. Except for this fun fact:
The story of Zacchaeus is about his intention to see Jesus, to conquer obstacles getting in his way. But that’s not the whole story. The real transformation in his life happens because Jesus sees Zacchaeus. As the parade moves down the crowded street, Jesus brings it to a halt under that sycamore tree. He looks up to see Zacchaeus in that place of secluded inquiry. (Could Zacchaeus have been an Episcopalian?) Jesus invites himself over to lunch at Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. Perhaps he should have been careful what he asked for.
By the time dessert rolls around, Zaccheus is a new man, promising to change his life, gladly giving up a bunch of money, making amends, healing broken relationships, beginning a new chapter. What does Jesus see in him: Not a rip-off artist. Not a pariah. Jesus sees in Zacchaeus a child of Abraham, a child of promise.
To whatever extent we wish to overcome obstacles that keep us from clearer spiritual vision, the fact is that Jesus has already got his eyes on us. He sees what we can be. He sees us as children of promise. If he can see us that way, regardless of our limits and failures, maybe we can see ourselves in a new light as well. Try that perspective this Monday morning.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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