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October, 30 2016

31 Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dr. Susan Fleming McGurgan


“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” 

“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”

Now, these were familiar words to anyone  who followed Jesus. His disciples heard these words all the time. In fact, by the time Jesus came to Jericho, his disciples had heard the words,  “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner”, so many times-- from so many different voices-- in so many different towns-- that they could just about predict how that crowd would react. 

By the time Jesus came to Jericho, his disciples were experts on grumbles. They knew all about the anger,  and the nudges,  and the stares that always seemed to follow the words…“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner”.

And when you think about it, maybe that crowd – that angry grumbling crowd— had a point. After all, there were other houses, you know. Other dinners, other places, other people Jesus could visit.

There were people in Jericho who obeyed the law.

People who didn’t cheat their friends or steal from their neighbors. There were people in Jericho who even on their worst day, wouldn’t dream of collecting taxes for the Romans.

But just as he had done so many times before, Jesus went to stay at the house of a sinner.

And this wasn’t just any sinner, mind you.  This was a tax collector. Some would say, a traitor. A man who turned his back on his own people. A man so lacking in dignity and self-respect that he hiked up his robes, ran ahead of the crowd, and scrambled up a sycamore tree.

And that’s the person Jesus noticed.

That’s the person  Jesus wanted to stay with.

That’s the person Jesus stopped in Jericho to meet. 

You know, maybe I’d have grumbled, too. After all, aren’t people like Zacchaeus the very people we spend our lives trying to avoid?  Don’t we study and pray and grow  so that we can leave Zacchaeus and everything he represents far, far behind?   

We learn-- even as babies, that people who cheat, people who steal, people who betray their neighbors are just no good.   And we discover, very early, that it’s  a lot easier and a whole lot safer to be with people who look and act a lot like us.  

And when we become parents, we try very hard, to protect our families and give the people we love the very best of everything. And for most of us, that includes Zacchaeus-free dining experiences. 

After all, It's a lot easier to tell a sinner how to fix his life than it is to let that sinner fix us dinner. 

It's a lot easier to pray for sinners or to pity them, or to condemn them than it is to let those sinners minister to us.

Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to accept Zacchaeus’ change of heart if his change of heart doesn’t have to change me. I guess when it comes right down to it, I really prefer to keep Zacchaeus up in that tree.   

Because when Jesus invites him to come down and share my life as a friend— a companion— as a dinner host, well, that’s a whole new world isn’t it? But maybe that’s why Jesus came to Jericho in the first place. To show us a whole new world.  

This story reminds us that being called by Jesus  doesn’t put us into a special club or give us the keys to a private fort.  Being called by Jesus doesn’t separate us from anyone or give us an excuse to say, “Thank God, I’m not Zacchaeus. I don’t have to climb a tree to see Jesus!”

The truth is, being called by Jesus -- being forgiven by Jesus – being changed by Jesus--puts us on a journey. It puts us on a dusty road right smack in the middle of a crowd, looking up at a sycamore tree.  

And this is not always an easy place to be.   

In fact, this journey will give us the challenge of a lifetime. Because if we answer that call and walk with Jesus, we have to walk with our eyes open. We have to be willing to see more than just the wonderful friends who stand right beside us. Walking with Jesus means that we can no longer travel through the crowd hoping to find a nice safe place on the other side.

Walking with Jesus means that when we look up to see that sinner in the sycamore tree, we don’t just see Zacchaeus we see ourselves. The story of Zacchaeus reminds us that Jesus continues to call, continues to forgive, continues to change the strangest people in the strangest places.

And this story gives us hope that every time Jesus looks up from the crowd, He’ll recognize us, call us each by name, and say, “come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house!”

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