come down from the tree…

Soiche Watanabe
paul & Sarah Jane

(thoughts for sunday…)

It was the kind of day no different from the one before… as familiar as your mother’s face. And yet before the sun had set, for some in this town, everything taken for granted would be turned upside down.

Jericho wasn’t the place he was going. It was just somewhere to pass through on his way to Jerusalem. Had it been here Jesus passed through can you imagine?

The shutters coming down on Scot-Mid; people spilling out of the Tom Craig; children freed from the classrooms at primary, as the regulars at the auld store bar finished up their pint and joined the length of the village to catch a glimpse of Jesus passing through.

That’s how it was the day Jesus came through Jericho. People Lining the streets and wondering if he’d do something, something that might take your breath away. People of Jericho- be careful what you wish for.

And here’s wee Zacchaeus trying to squeeze in, find some space to see – but nobody will make room for him. Had it been in Law do you think folks would have said of him: Aye We knew his father…he was a wean when he came to this village…he’s an incomer – the way small places sometimes see the world through parochial eyes.

When the bible calls Zacchaeus Chief tax collector and rich man, these are not descriptions – they are terms of abuse.

A tax collector – he should have a mask on…

A tax collector – he doesn’t care how he makes his money…

A tax collector – I don’t know how he can sleep at night…

And Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector.

Rich: he’s just take, take, take…

Rich: his clothes cost weans their bread…

his house was paid for by evicting widows…

In Jericho Zacchaeus was the scraping of a shoe.

reasons for attendance…

So why is the wee man here in the company a crowd who read his character? He wanted to see Jesus. But if he is the town villain why did he bother turning out to see Jesus?What was he expecting to see? What do we expect to see? Jesus: a character from a story like an image in the scrap book of history…

Or Jesus: the presence of God in flesh and blood, passing alongside wherever we are in doubt and struggle; beside our frustration and pain; Jesus in the back streets of our secret heart and hidden selves, where the sundried parts of our failure leave us for dead.

Maybe Zacchaeus wants to see for himself if the rumours about what Jesus said were true:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus, Marks gospel

Call them what…call them names? Call them out? Call them for what they should have done but haven’t? Call what they have done but shouldn’t?

Or call like a mother when her children have wandered too far away; call beyond the prison yard of our unstable self-esteem; call out of our being something more than we ever imagined was there.

what’s in the way?

But all that was immaterial because Zacchaeus couldn’t see, because the crowd was in the way…

I wonder what blocks our view of seeing Jesus as the presence of God:

Passing through our hurts with mending…

Passing through our loneliness with welcome…

Passing through our frustration with patience…

Challenging our shame with the gift of forgiveness.

I reckon we all have distractions and fears that crowd our view and obscure what we can see of Jesus. I also reckon Jesus comes to the place where our vison is overcrowded by fears of the future and guilt from the past. Jesus meets us where we struggle like shouting Zacchaeus down from a tree, surprising us by wanting to come where we live.

And in that shout the story turns as Jesus is no longer passing through – he is staying: I must stay at your house today.

The story is no longer about Zacchaeus wanting to see who Jesus was but about Jesus coming to where Zacchaeus lives.

Are we ready to come down from the tree? Or are we afraid of the voices inside us as much as outside that question our friendship with Jesus.

little voice…

“It’s no right”…go the mumbles and moans…Whatever surprises the crowd hoped to see it wasn’t ready for this: Jesus do you have any idea who he is!

He’s the wee guy that lines his pockets with what we’ve not got…he’s the wee guy who works the area for the Romans…he’s not got an ounce of humanity it in him…

And from somewhere inside himself Zacchaeus finds the strength to challenge those voices: that’s not who I am…

What?

Zacchaeus finds a voice…

Sometimes what Zacchaeus says next is translated as something he will do from now on. As if Jesus calling him down the tree changes how Zaccheus will behave. But that’s not what Zacchaeus says, in the original New testament Greek what Zacchaeus says next is in the present tense:

Listen:  

I give half of what I make back to the poor

Not I will give – but I already do…

And if someone pays too much

 they get four times as much back…

Not they will get – but they already do..

Zacchaeus finds a voice to say I am not who the crowd say I am. Yes I work with the Herodians. Yes I work with the Romans. Yes I manage the whole thing and I more than get by, but I’m not who the crowd say I am.

I give half of what I make back to the poor and if someone pays too much they get four times as much back…

It turns out that Zacchaeus is as good as his name: Righteous…

And Jesus has a choice. He can listen to the crowd’s opinion: tax collectors are tax collectors after all or he can take Zacchaeus at his word…What’s it going to be Jesus?

who do you say I am?

Wee man, Jesus says, or the Aramaic equivalent, You are a son of Abraham, You belong, You are part of God’s family, You are in, welcome, You have a place beyond the crowds prejudice, beyond their resentment – You Zacchaeus are more than they think and your heart is somewhere God can make a home in – welcome back to the people of God.

That’s some of what it means when Jesus says: Salvation is coming to your house today. Jesus acts out how Zaccheus belongs to the people of God- reconcilled – an act of making peace. Coming to where he lives.

To the prejudice of the crowd he is a tax collector. He Works for the enemy – So the people of Jericho took for granted he was a thief and cheat- they made him an outsider. Jesus says – no – not in my eyes.

I imagine the wee guy walking back home with Jesus feels like he’s the tallest man in the village. He was at peace with who he was, at peace with the God who met him in Jesus. At peace with his community? They had no reason left to treat him as an outsider anymore, but if our troubled times tell us anything it tells us how people sometimes cherish their own warped version of reality. They can’t bring themselves to acknowledge what’s true.

peacemaking…

One of the things this story says to me is: peace making will always involve seeing more than lazy prejudice, seeing beyond the labels people are given. Law parish church should be somewhere in the village where we learn how to see goodness in someone and reflect that back to them…

Where we learn to see the uniqueness in each life, the beauty that has been wounded or crushed…seeing with patience…seeing with understanding…Seeing someone until they see reflected back in our gaze, not as a category but as someone God loves.

Peace-making gives someone a chance to tell their story even when everyone presumes they know it already. Peace-making gives room for more than what we all take for granted about people: migrant, asylum seeker, disabled, gay, pensioner, youngster, socialist, lesbian, nationalist, Tory, brexiter, remainer…whatever the label is: Peace won’t happen until we get to know the person behind the category – until like Jericho, we are surprised how what we took for granted turned out to be wrong -turned out to be ignorance masquerading as truth.

Peace making embraces the words of Rowan Williams:

The world is more than you ever thought. You are more than you ever thought. God is more than you can ever think. And you are not trapped in the story you tell yourself about yourself. That’s a vision worth sharing.

Rowan Williams (Luminaries)

come down from the tree…

Something else catches the sleeve of my thoughts. Jesus says: come down from the tree Zaccheus. Why?

Because I must climb up the tree…the tree they plant outside the city walls of Jerusalem; a barren tree, dead tree, where I shall be pinned by three roman nails.

And they shall call up: loser, sinner, chancer, god-forsaken also ran…and they will say come down from the tree- if your the son of god – if you think you can…

But I won’t come down, not until there’s room for everyone to find they are more than the story others tell of them, more than the story they tell themselves, more than we think or imagine, until the doors are unlocked on human heart where I long to come home: it’s called salvation.

postscript…

I wrote the song above some time ago. It’s called diving for stars. It imagines the aftermath of a village that’s been visited by those who cannot see human beings any more, only categories. It jumps between the aftermath of a vist by “cleansers”, and the time before troubles began when people saw one another as neighbours.

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