Sunday, October 31

Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 26C
Isaiah 1:10-18
Psalm 32:1-7
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

I always smile when I read this Gospel. First of all, because it puts me in mind of not one, but two favorite Bible stories of my childhood. Look first at the opening verse: “He entered Jericho and was passing through it.” Remember Jericho? One of the more famous places in the Old Testament-- where Rahab the prostitute saved the spies from being caught, and then the Israelite army followed God’s command to parade around the city, until their shout caused the walls to crumble. Remember the song?

“Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came a-tumblin' down.”

And then, there's the story itself that is told here. It has another song with it: "Zacchaeus was a wee little man; a wee little man was he..." That's been a favorite since I was a wee little thing myself.

It’s so easy to picture, isn’t it? A crowd coming by, and some short guy climbing a tree, in order to see what was going on (like people climb light standards in Chicago, to watch parades).

Then of course, he gets a real surprise. Jesus notices him dangling there, and takes the opportunity to invite himself over. No formal greeting, no going through channels or standing on protocol. It’s the sort of exchange that you’d more likely expect between old friends, don’t you think?

I believe that’s part of what Jesus came to teach us. He greets both friend and stranger, beloved follower and unknown sinner-- either seeking them out (like the woman at the well), or welcoming them into his presence (as he did the sinful woman, or the children who wanted to see him) with the same sort of casual availability.

Note that Jesus does not ever voice approval of Zacchaeus’ sinful doings (even though, listening to the muttering crowd, his reputation would likely have preceded him). He does not deliver any sort of “I’m okay, you’re okay” pablum; never once. He has strong convictions about God’s relationship with humanity, and the way that should be reflected in the way we treat one another. Convictions he is willing to die for. But here in this story we see one example of the difference between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day: he holds those strong convictions, very gently.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to that same standard of interaction: loving one another, and being present to one another, even when we are in opposition. Maybe most especially then.

Building walls does nothing to build up the Kingdom of God. In fact, as a friend of mine noted recently, “The funny thing about creating a tightly defined set of rules that clearly explain what Christians can and can't do, is that you also create a tightly defined set of rules that tells God what He can and can't do.” And that is one place, brothers and sisters, we are in no way entitled-- nor even able-- to go.

Yesterday was the my annual diocesan convention. In the bishop’s address, he referred to the core values of our diocese. The fourth of those is “a commitment to one another.” As an illustration of this, he told the following story:
Shortly after General Convention, a gay and lesbian ministry group in one of our parishes invited Sylvia and me to spend an evening with them. We gladly did so – celebrating the Eucharist together, sharing a meal, and telling our stories. No one tried to convince anyone of anything. We simply spent time together and recognized that what binds us together is Jesus. There are no simple solutions here; deep differences based on convictions aren’t erased. But it does remind us that the source of unity – indeed our only hope – is the Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus invites us to come to the foot of the cross together.
That is our mission, brothers and sisters, and our hope, right there: to come to the foot of the cross, together. May God be with all of us as we try live into it.