June 25, 2017

Selfie, pt. 3

 

Luke 19:1-10

19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. A man there named Zacchaeus, a ruler among tax collectors, was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but, being a short man, he couldn’t because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today.” So Zacchaeus came down at once, happy to welcome Jesus.

Everyone who saw this grumbled, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.”

Jesus said to him, “Today, salvation has come to this household because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 The Human One came to seek and save the lost.”

 

 

There is an old story that I’ve heard a lot recently about Thomas Edison. During interviews for job candidates to work in his lab, he would take the applicant out to lunch. If the person seasoned his or her food before tasting it, they were cut from the list. The story has surfaced multiple times with various characters: Henry Ford, General McArthur, and even the applicant doing this to the interviewer in some tellings. The modern fable highlights the folly of assumptions and being too quick to take action.

 

There is a certain dismissiveness about seeing the difference in others and choosing to believe that we know better than they do. Maybe the unnamed applicant has eaten in that restaurant before and knows the cooks under-season. Maybe they have a condition that requires extra salt than most use. Or, if you have cooked long enough, you can smell when something needs salt and pepper. We tend to use little anecdotes and proverbs as a litmus test to categorize what is “good” and “bad.” But should we?

 

One of the great lessons many people tell their children is to decide for themselves how they view others without listening too much to others’ opinions or advice. This comes from the very biblical teachings of the value of all persons as creations of God; that judgment is reserved for God alone; and the personal guilt-inducing challenge of loving our neighbor even when it hurts.

 

…which brings attention to difference, but today’s Scripture isn’t just about difference but also about reputation. Again, we must lean into the wisdom of our parents and the teachings of the church but with more sensitivity to the fact that the Bible pushes us to be more thoughtful in how we think of others.

 

Jesus is with his disciples traveling through Jericho. Zacchaeus, a man we know to have a bad reputation among the people, tries to catch a glimpse of the roaming rabbi. When Jesus sees him up in a sycamore tree, he tells him that they will eat together. It is a common story that we tell children because we have the song and it is nice to show that Jesus cared about everybody – especially the vertically-challenged, tax-collecting sinner.

 

But that’s not actually what the story says. The story of Zacchaeus so often focuses on his sinfulness as a tax collector. Why else would Jesus want to have dinner with him? Jesus is the guy who eats with sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes! Notice that Jesus never actually calls them sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes. That’s what the people were saying.

It is that tendency to make assumptions that causes Jesus to call Zacchaeus down, because he knows the people will grumble and he also knows that Zacchaeus is more innocent than those judgmental people realize and thus offers the opportunity to give a lesson about the folly of judgment. Let’s reread that section:

Everyone who saw this grumbled, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.”Jesus said to him, “Today, salvation has come to this household because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 The Human One came to seek and save the lost.”

If you pay attention, Jesus claiming salvation for Zacchaeus is not because Jesus caused him to repent. He had no reason to. He noted that salvation comes from following the law, which Zacchaeus is doing. Jesus’ proclamation that the Human One had come to save the lost was a message to all the people who gossiped that Zacchaeus was a sinner.

 

When we take this story in light of our series Selfie, think of all the pictures you take or are taken of you. How many of them are just you? If you are like me, it is hard to find a picture of just you in it. Most pictures have other people in them, either because it is a group photo or a photo of two people, or we notice others in the background who did not plan to be in the picture.

 

In the language of God, there is so much happening in the world that we do not see.  The old phrase for this is “a picture is worth a thousand words.” So often we look at the subject – the main focus – of a photo and fail to see all the detail around it. While it is easy to see what we see and make assumptions about what God is doing, if we pay attention, we may notice God is doing something else. Like today’s story: we think it is about the salvation of one person, but then we realize that it is all of us who need salvation.

 

The language I use when thinking about all the workings of those whom God calls is collage. If God’s framed picture of me up on the heavenly mantel piece has me being a pastor, or laughing with friends, or making something in the kitchen, a lot of other photos surround it with other children of God doing what they do that brings glory to God. All of us, all of these pictures, are part of the kingdom of heaven. God wants every single one of us and is happy to claim us. But that doesn’t mean that it is about just you or just me. All of us are pieced together into a giant, beautiful collage. We call it the kingdom of heaven.

 

I think we as a culture do still believe in the value of others and that none are too far gone to be saved by God’s grace. I think about Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Story. Scrooge is a stingy and angry man who is given the opportunity to change. If the story were realistic, I’m sure we would see all of his neighbors saying, “I don’t believe it. You haven’t changed at all.” Thankfully, Dickens shows us a glimpse of what Jesus sees in his mission to earth. Genuine grace given to someone can radically alter who they are, but we ourselves also need generous hearts to accept those who are changed by love. We have to see the hope they see. Every transformation of one inevitably changes others.

 

Today’s story about Zacchaeus cautions against using judgment to exclude anyone from being a part of God’s kingdom. Just like the lesson Jesus uses in Matthew 7 and Luke 6 about noticing the splinter in another’s eye while neglecting the log in our own, we are reminded that judgment is bad for the soul. But it also robs us of experiencing new things in the grandeur of God’s creating of all the earth. If I were to judge others simply because I felt they were too different or too far gone to teach me anything, I would never have started my journey with food; I would not have joined a grunge metal band and made some really solid friends in school; I would have lost out on many good relationships and friendships and even followed the call back to the church.

 

It’s not just about being a good person – it’s about all the good in people.