A View from a Tree #zacchaeus #equality #grace
I’m in danger of losing my own thread. But I think it is an important thread, so I am going to try and pin it down, weave it into a retrievable idea.
I began the year looking for a theoretical solution to world peace. (and why not?!) I began musing over the question, “One day, will there be no ‘them’?”, looking at the effect of technological advances on inter-group understanding.
Perhaps if the “others” in our lives could be part of the “us”, peace is a theoretical possibility.
It seemed a bit abstract (and perhaps a bit ‘heavy’ for the first of January!).
But then recent events in France lead to many, many people banding together to become an “us” against a “them” – not even an “us” plural – people were banding together saying as a unity, “Je suis Charlie”, symbolizing common ground between them – equality and liberty, despite the diversity.
Then in church on Sunday – whether or not this was the plan by the preacher or not, I don’t know – part of the sermon on Zacchaeus addressed this idea also. Well, kind of.
Some quotes in the following section are from the story in the bible:
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd
In the story, the crowd think they are the “us”. They are in the majority. They are waiting for a passing celebrity and they are all lining up to get a good view.
Zacchaeus isn’t invited down the front to get a view – perhaps he is unpopular, perhaps he is seen as a “them” as he was working for the Romans – we soon see that the crowd see him – label him – as a “sinner”.
So, the crowd are the “us” and Zacchaeus is the “them”. He is on the periphery, excluded and left to his own devices. His own device, at this point being a handy sycamore tree that he climbs.
… So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’
Oh the disapproval! What Jesus did was not what the crowd expected. It was not what the crowd wanted. Instead of having tea with one of “us” he insisted on having hospitality with one of “them”. The crowd respond with muttering – Zacchaeus is not included, he is excluded.
He is excluded perhaps because of his behaviour. He is excluded perhaps because he works for the occupying force in the country. He is morally corrupt and has been cheating people out of their money – no wonder he was socially spurned and elbowed to the back of the crowd and up the tree ! – why should he be allowed to be in the crowd, to be part of “us”? It was surely self defence to exclude him!
Jesus then steps in and – doesn’t offer Zacchaeus social help – the opposite – he looks for hospitality and Zacchaeus “came down at once and welcomed him gladly”. Whether there was much conversation over the visit is not clear, but Zacchaeus makes changes to his lifestyle as a result of the meeting with Jesus.
A well known story – but the point that chimes in with my whole “them” and “us” consideration is this next bit:
Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’”
“This man too” – Jesus declares inclusion for Zacchaeus – he is saying, as if to the crowd – ‘you think he is a sinner – different to you – but “he too” is part of this – a son of Abraham – part of the chosen people – part of the “us” – although he might not look like it, live like it – he is included.” Maybe they did not understand the nature of the “us” they thought they were a part of. Maybe they didn’t realise they were as lost as the next man.
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Zacchaeus had perhaps lost his cultural identity, perhaps lost his faith and the practices of his faith and had thereby become marginalized and a spurned minority of one. He was “the lost” – but clearly, in the story, was found again and stated to be part of the “us” of the narrative.
The crowd however have a clear delineation in their head – something like mine from January 1st:
“Lines in the sand have been drawn separating the us from the them – when people overstep in regards to their oppression and abuse of others, war-mongering, intolerance etc.
The abuser, the terrorist, the person whose political views we find abhorrent, the ignorant thug, the hardened criminal, the infuriating philosopher – these are the “them” that “we” still have.”
In this way, I was being part of the crowd – part of the “us” mentality – looking at people who I could not see myself as identifying with.
Much as I do not want to identify with these groups, the truth of the matter is that, I am arguably as in need of inclusion as them:
“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
If there is a line I can draw that gets all of humanity on the same side, we find a common denominator: lostness – and a need of grace – the fact that for any one of us to be coaxed out of our trees and down into society – relationships with other, or a relationship with God – is a result of grace.
The fact that I may see myself as “acceptable”, as “nice” or as “inoffensive” does not mean that I am in fact acceptable, nice or inoffensive.
I may well be “them”.
If I am one of “them”, I can perhaps identify with my fellow man in our common need for grace.