Our repetitive retelling of the stories in the bible is a big part of who we are as Church. We are a people of the story. God’s story. That thread deep in our collective memory of who we are as God’s beloved.
Today God’s story is retold through the interaction between Jesus and Zacchaeus. This is a story that is—for at least some people here— familiar. Yet it is always good to repeat the narrative. This is how we learn. This is how we teach our children. Repetition. Over and over. Our retellings of our biblical stories are our living, breathing chronicles of who we are as people of God. As human beings.
Thus I want to retell the story. Here. And now. Zacchaeus’ story. How many of you, as the bible passage was read today, had a song pop into your head? A song that starts out, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man…”? How many of you could sing that song today?
Can you sing it…?
(multiple people began singing… and more joined in…)
was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see
And when the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree
And said, ‘Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I’m going to your house today!
For I’m going to your house today!
And… how many of you have never heard that song before (many hands went up in the sanctuary)? At each of the bible studies this past Wednesday it was interesting to see the blend of those who knew the song… and sang the song on Wednesday… interwoven with the looks on the faces of the people who had never heard the song before. This is our time. Our culture. A moment when our intertwining life experiences come from a multitude of backgrounds. We have fewer collective songs and stories in this time of digital media and global information.
Whether you know the tune or not, we do know… and can agree…that this is a story that is really easy to understand… right??? In the song, we have this easy to grasp, catchy tune that summaries Zacchaeus’ urge to see Jesus:
Zacchaeus climbs up a tree.
Jesus walks by.
Jesus sees Zacchaeus.
Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he’s coming over to his house.
That’s it. A simple, straight forward tale. End of story, right? Zacchaeus is saved. Life is good.
But wait. Let’s reread the story. This is a retelling found only the gospel of Luke. In its original context, and for us today, there is something else lurking beneath the surface. In this short, single encounter, there is a much, much bigger story.
This is narrative packed with oppression. Thievery. Quid pro quo. Working the system to get ahead. Working the system for your own benefit. To become rich. To heck with everyone else. There is anger. There is unsettling, and complaining, all around.
Yet this is also an encounter with the Golden Rule. Did you hear it?
This is an event that unraveled everyone that was out on the streets of Jericho that day. Jesus flipped their world upside down, and Zacchaeus responded by breaking every rule in the book of “this is the way things are supposed to be.” The crowds grumbled. This was wrong. Zacchaeus was NOT the person Jesus should see. Zacchaeus was NOT the person Jesus should reach out to. And Zacchaeus was definitely NOT the person Jesus should be hanging out with. No. Nada. Not.
Diana Butler Bass writes, “Since Zacchaeus was a Jew and not a Roman citizen, there was only one way he could become wealthy. In the lands they conquered, the Romans offered some political positions at auction to local inhabitants… That is how Zacchaeus got rich… he had bought his position… and worked up from there to become chief tax collector in the important city of Jericho.” She goes on to note that, “This is not a charming children’s story. This is a story about the guy who cuts in line, cheats on tests, and stuffs the ballot box in order to become class president.”
The passage in Luke begins by telling us that Jesus was just passing through. Jesus was just passing through Jericho that dusty day—and the whole world was transformed in a single encounter. Bass suggests that this tale is a lived example of Jesus’ teaching earlier in Luke, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31), what we call the Golden Rule. She says that, “The Golden Rule is a concise summary of Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus. ‘Come down from that tree,’ Jesus insisted, ‘and sit together where all people are hosts and guests, givers and receivers together.’”
A vocation unraveled. A way of extortions, and lies, and working the system undone. A life expectation radically re-understood in an instant. Zacchaeus, according to Bass, “knew gratitude was public, communal, and political. Jesus jogged his spiritual memory, and made Zaccheaus’ deep spiritual longings obvious. Jesus made him choose. Zacchaeus had to resist the political assumptions of the around him in favor of a different vision of the world.”
So come. Let us sit together. Let us unravel the busyness and upheaval we have been taught to accept. Come together. Let us weave a new story…
I love that this a faith community in which the Spirit bursts forth in unexpected ways. God is like that—popping up in unexpected places in unexpected moments. In Jerusalem. On the streets of Jericho.
And this past Tuesday, Jesus passed through Fitchburg…
I was there. My day began early. Driving to a monthly prayer gathering with other faith leaders in Fitchburg, I had to stop for a red light at McKee. There, posted in the grass along the median, were two handmade signs with a plea for those driving by to “Receive Jesus in your heart today!” I began to ponder what that meant for me in today’s world. I wanted to pause and see who this Jesus was. Or did I? Was this the Jesus that has captured my love and attention… who has met me in unexpected places… and drawn me into the extravagant tapestry of God’s Love? Or was this a different Jesus?
The unsettling in my heart suggested to me that the signs did not reflect the Jesus that I have encountered in my life, but instead was the Jesus that comes packaged in bad theology. That is a version of Jesus I do not understand.
It was also this past Tuesday, when Jesus passed through the city amidst the overwhelming white noise. The chaotic eruption of “Breaking News”. The reporting, and denying, and tweeting, and texting, and interviewing, and finger pointing that can transfix us… while at the same time making us wish we could just turn off the television. The radio. The unraveling. The blowing up of “Big Stuff” (if, of course, this is Big Stuff… and it is Big Stuff… isn’t it…??? Or… It all gets so confusing…)—The blowing up of the “Big Stuff” that is so very, very “real” (notice the air quotes around “real”…).
And it is “real.” Right?
But then Jesus passes through. Tuesday evening, I met with a family. We gathered here, in the sanctuary, to talk about baptism. To talk about what it means to be a part of this faith community. In the presence of their daughter, who is only a couple of months old, there was none of the background noise. There wasn’t “Big Stuff” blowing up. I mean, the “Big Stuff” was still out there. It’s “real.” But for a moment we were held in another space. Sacred space.
Because THIS… THIS is REAL (REAL in capital letters). I looked at the brightly colored, multi-textured, playful colors of our unraveled threads on the communion table and thought, THIS… this “…is a concise summary of Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus.” In this space Jesus was again saying “Come down from that tree of chaos, lies, and oppression. Come. Let’s sit together where all people are hosts and guests, givers and receivers together.”
And then Tuesday night, Jesus hung out for a while. The Membership Committee met, and I sat in their midst listening to the great love and care, and time, with which they held the members and friends of this congregation. With all of “this” going on above us, and beyond us, in our country and around the world… THIS—our time HERE—in this place—is REAL. The REAL REAL. This is the “how we care for one another,” the day-to-day love and compassion that is oh so very needed when the “Big Stuff” is happening “here.”
THIS is where Jesus shows up. THIS is where Jesus comes and invites us to sit at the table together. To unravel the busyness and upheaval we have been taught to accept. This is the REAL that is REAL.
People of God, let us come together. Let us weave a new story…
One “where all people are hosts and guests, givers and receivers together.”
Come. Tell that story…
Reflection on Luke 19: 1-10 offered September 29, 2019.
 Bass, Diana Butler. Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2018. 157.
 Bass, Diana Butler. Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2018. 158.
 Bass, Diana Butler. Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2018. 168.
 Bass, Diana Butler. Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2018. 164.