“Familiarity breeds contempt.” Or so goes the old maxim. Sometimes I wonder if there are times where we hear a passage of Scripture so frequently we tell it what to mean. There is little doubt I have expressed something like this before. But, this week one of our texts is that story of “Zacchaeus was a wee little man.” Children’s songs are catchy. And, like some of the adult songs we sing they stop short of the whole picture. Combine our memories of these little jingles and the repetition of the telling of the story and we are often left thinking we know the story too well. Luke intends to tell Theophilus the story of Jesus. He includes this story. Christian musical artist/theologian Michael Card considers Luke to always point out that the “people who should get Jesus don’t, and the people who shouldn’t get Jesus do.” Maybe he is on to something when we come to Zacchaeus.
Sometimes Sunday mornings require a certain sensibility. We do have “young ears” sitting with us. Many times I wonder if our interest not to have to explain what the “preacher” said keeps us from letting the reality of the stories sink deeply into our understanding of the love of God in Jesus the Christ. For instance, when we think of Tax Collectors it is a bit ambiguous for the pastor to ask you to consider who represents that “class” of person for you. It is unclear because we often do not think deeply enough about what this means. We are not talking about your most troublesome relationship. We are not talking about your ethnic phobias. We are talking about people who for you represent everything that is wrong with society.
Tax Collectors represented just such a class of person. They were thieves. And worse, they were in league with the Romans but were Jewish by heritage. Traitors do not go down well in our book. Benedict Arnold anyone? Traitors are not only those who betray us. We lump into that category those who betray what we believe to be true and right. We proudly and publicly establish our own sensibilities and when another person, or group of persons, fail to live up to those sensibilities we cast them into a bin and consider “them” the reason our world is in the shape it is in. Now think about what group of people you cast into that place in your mind. These are those that today represent Tax Collectors – those who betray our personal convictions about how life should be lived, and champion that way as as viable as our own. Jesus said to him, “come on, we are hanging out today.”
When we talk about a “to come” community and include Tax Collectors our knee-jerk response spins around the notion of “approving.” Are we to apply the same to Jesus. When Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house is he “approving” of his life decisions. It is a move to marginalize people and provoke fear. To suggest our openness to others, regardless of their personal choice, means we approve of what they do makes it impossible to engage people at the point of hope in Jesus anywhere but from a distance. A Jewish philosopher described the kind of human social relationships that value the other person. Levinas contended that to notice the color of the eye was to reduce the person to a visual – that is, “You have blue eyes.” Our move is then to consider the way we engage with those who have “blue eyes” rather than the person before us.
More simply put, when we notice a person’s features we reduce them to those features. “My you have big ears.” “Wow, where did you get that hair style?” And in our highly sexualized culture this gets worse. There is then no way to have a social relationship because we have reduced the other person to his or her features. Zacchaeus was short. But, Jesus looked beyond his stature and invited himself to a social interaction – a meal. Arguably, a meal that would change Zacchaeus forever. Have you ever considered that a social interaction may well be the occasion a life is changed forever? Jesus did.