Jesus entered Jericho. ... A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree… When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said, “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 grumbled, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus 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.”
I’ve been away from the newsfeed for a while. It was a real break from the grumbling crowds. Like the prophet Habakkuk, sometimes I want to shout, “Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble?”
I thank God we’re on the final stretch in this wearying and argumentative time. We’re all sick of it.
And since Habakkuk wrote from the 7th century BCE, it’s also nothing new.
Yet our recognition of fighting and discord, of grooming hatred and violence, points squarely in the face of Jesus. For Jesus’ message is clearly “STOP! Put down the sword!”
Created in the image of God, we are each different: each a glimpse of that image. Our work is to live in the differences — learn from our differences — and reconcile the world through our differences. Not disgust. Not destruction. Not retaliation.
Let’s take a look at the story of Zaccheus, the little man who went out on a limb to find Jesus.
It’s almost a caricature — the crowd pushing through the city — and one small guy hoisting himself up a tree to catch a glimpse. Then, Jesus spots him.
“Get down out of that tree. We need to talk,” commands Jesus.
Oh, that we would say that to each other: We need to talk.
So Zaccheus — tax collector robber scumbag, poster child of the oppressor — comes to Jesus.
Well that just sucks the fun of the fight away now, doesn’t it? How could you, Jesus? How could you talk to ... him?
Then, Jesus goes home with him, spending precious time with this guy.
That’s when the miracle occurs — for changing a heart may well be the greatest of miracles. Zaccheus repents, in the truest sense of the word. Zaccheus stops in his tracks. No longer an oppressor, but aware of his part in the pain and ready to make up for it. That’s reconciliation.
And that is the point of grace. That whatever we do away from God is stopped and we turn back toward God and each other. That’s repentance. And it’s without revenge.
Zaccheus has gone beyond the repenting. Zaccheus not only stops, but will make up for the harm he’s done, freely compensating anyone he’s cheated. Not the 20 percent fine of the law of Leviticus — but 400 percent! Over the top — And I’ll bet it was a relief.
Our nation’s been in months-long, years-long, decades-long, human-history-long grumbles. God willing, or more likely us willing, for God certainly wills it, this will settle down.
We can come off any limbs onto which we’ve crawled and help the grumblers come to dinner.
“The enduring lines of difference” as theologian Miroslav Volf has named them, will continue to exist. Our reconciliation comes in our recognition that we are all one.
For we are all one as sinners. From Zaccheus to me and you — we are all the sinners we each love to hate. It’s so easy to point a finger away — at somebody else. The real work begins when we start with the only person we can manage: ourselves.
So we are all to be the reconcilers. Every day. Every time. We are to turn to the hard work of goodness. Like Zaccheus, reconciliation starts with our very own turn around.
Praying, hoping, and caring for each other, in the face of anything that would divide us.
That’s our work. And it will continue — no matter what the issue of the day. For the Kingdom of God is so far stronger and enduring than any we could create. Live in it.
Beloveds, walk in peace. Grow in love. Let your call to Jesus’ way strengthen you, stifling every call to division. God bless you.
The Rev. Janice Jones is rector of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Killeen.