When Jesus sees us
I am sure you have all noticed that the stories preserved for us in the pages of what we know as the Bible contain accounts of God’s interactions and relationships with people. But not just any people. More often than not, the accounts that have been preserved and passed down from generation to generation are primarily concerned with people whose lives did not seem to match our ideal of what God-fearing people are to be nor do they strike us as people who would otherwise be remembered by any literary account. Have you ever wondered why this is? Perhaps it is because God could never reach the people who would not naturally be attracted to him if all the stories were about people whose lives ever revealed a deep love for God and a strong desire to walk in God’s ways.
There are also accounts that follow the lives of significant leaders and prophets. Such accounts are important in order that we see the historical and spiritual connection that people had with God throughout the times past. But even the greatest of all these leaders and prophets had their weaknesses and failures. Yet such things do not diminish the significance of what they accomplished. They do help us to see their humanity and know that for all their greatness, they still walked the same path through life that we walk.
In the letter which we know as the letter to the Hebrews, the author celebrates the faith of those who obeyed and followed God even without any knowledge or hint of a possibility of an eternal life with God. If they could have such faith as to follow the teachings and seek the will of God in a time when nothing beyond this life could even be imagined, think of how much more we are encouraged to follow the teachings and seek the will of God in a time when we have been given the assurance not only of the presence of God through this span of years but a promise of a future lived eternally in the companionship of the One who guides us today!
We are fortunate to live in a time when we are past the first coming of God in Christ. Not only can we read of how God guided an ancient people to have faith in him and learn the true intention of the Creator for their lives, we can also read the accounts of people who experienced God in the person of Jesus. We can read about their lives even if it is just for a moment and we can begin to appreciate what they struggled with in their lives and how God in Jesus responded to their struggles. Even more than that, we can read accounts of how those in the earliest formations of Christian community struggled with how to live out their faith in practical ways; we can read of the mistakes they made and the apostles’ teaching that sought to help them find the path to faithful living.
We call the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament the Holy Bible. Indeed, it is a holy book and indeed it contains the Word of God but that word is not and never has been intended to be something that gets frozen in time and revered in such a way as to never allow a new word to be written or spoken. We should begin to think of the Word of God in the way that John characterizes it: The Word is a person; the Word is a spirit; the Word is a living being. It is not a frozen past; it is not a statue without life. When we read the Scripture, we are to be looking not just at the words as printed on the page but the spirit of that word that enables the message contained in human words to be translated into a living message that can have an impact on our lives today. The interpretation of the text from its original form has been translated many times by many people. To rely solely on the written word is to often miss the real intention behind the accounts gathered into this literary work. When we become dogmatic readers of words, we stop looking for the living Word; but it is the living Word that people of every generation and place encountered. The written words became the record of a living experience of God. I so much have come to appreciate the Sisters of St. John the Divine who end each reading of Scripture with the phrase “listen for the leading of the Spirit”.
So, let us listen for the leading of the Spirit today as we explore the encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus. Whether one was a follower of Jesus’ teaching, it was clear that there was a great curiosity among most people to see who Jesus was. In a world where good news was preciously slim, the presence of a person who could heal illness and whose teaching was a breath of freedom for body and soul was something worth seeing. The crowds that gathered around Jesus as he passed through Jericho were considerable in size. So many people were seeking to see him that it was difficult to find a spot. It was even more difficult for a little man like Zacchaeus. But Zacchaeus found a solution. He climbed a tree. From there he could get a good look at this man called Jesus. And that’s all he wanted – just a chance to see who this man was and to see his face. If you have ever been in a parade and tried to wave to and notice everyone as you passed by, I am sure you have some appreciation for how easy it may have been to not notice Zacchaeus. But Jesus does see him. He not only sees him, but he knows his name. And not only does he know his name, he invites himself to dinner at his house. The crowd is shocked that Jesus would even think to go to Zacchaeus’ house – a rich man who had made his fortune off the backs of others as a tax collector. What Jesus showed in his eyes or his voice we can only imagine, but whatever it was it made an impact on Zacchaeus. Immediately Zacchaeus repents of his ways and makes promises of restitution to anyone whom he has defrauded. He also promises to give significantly of his wealth to the poor. It is only at this point that Jesus declares that salvation has come to Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus was acknowledged by Jesus to be a son of Abraham, a descendant of the one chosen by God to be the father of the people of Israel. Whether it could be proven that he was a blood relative was not important. God had chosen Abraham to be the father of the nation and all born since were therefore children of Abraham and of God. Zacchaeus was a lost son; one who had followed a path away from God. Yet he had come to see the light! He was accepted and restored.
I am sure that the people of that day scratched their heads in amazement that Jesus would take the time to not only see Zacchaeus but to welcome him with open arms as a lost and found son of the father of the nation. But we need to give serious consideration to the fact that God has ever sought to accept and restore all of us to a living relationship with him. One of the hardest things for any community of faith to deal with is the fact that the church, the synagogue, the temple – any place where people of faith gather – such places are to be places where God can see people who are lost, who are hurting, who are confused, who are struggling.
Don’t get me wrong. The community of faith is for those who have been found, who have been healed, who have found clarity in their lives and who have found peace, but we are to never let it become a place where people cannot meet Jesus.
No matter whom we are; no matter where we have come from or where we are going; no matter what the state of our life, Jesus see us. And his gaze is not one of judgment but of compassion; it is not one of condemnation but of healing and peace. When Jesus sees us, will we see Jesus?