Sunday, October 31, 2010

Is there a Zacchaeus in my life?

The gospel reading for October 31 is the story in Luke about the interaction between Jesus and Zacchaeus, the head tax collector Jericho. For a variety of cultural and political reasons, those who collected taxes for the Romans were considered "sinners" by the Jews and thus Zacchaeus would have been an egregious sinner indeed. Zacchaeus was at least curious about Jesus, this itinerant teacher since he was trying to catch a glimpse of him. Since he was "short in stature," he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree above the crowds in order to see Jesus. His tactic worked; he saw Jesus and Jesus saw him. What happened next was unexpected and life changing.

When Jesus saw him up in the tree, he asked him to come down and then Jesus invited himself to dinner at Zacchaeus' house. This fraternization with a public sinner was scandalous to the crowd but was life changing for Zacchaeus. This acceptance of him as a person struck him to his core and he immediately responded by committing to give away half of his fortune to those less fortunate and to redress any injustice or fraud he had perpetrated on those with whom he dealt. His life changed, not because his "sins" were condemned as well they might have been, but because he was accepted as a human being.

If we Christians are to be the light of Christ to the world, are we not called to the same interaction? We are not called to condemn but to love others, especially those who are different from us. The challenge for most 21st century Americans is that we live, work, and play within tightly homogeneous groups. In order for us to model that acceptance displayed Jesus, most of us most of the time have to seek experiences outside our normal life spaces. It is there that we will find those, who like Zacchaeus are different perhaps even to the point of being condemned by society. It is these we are called to love with the same life-changing love and acceptance displayed by Jesus in this gospel story.

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