Isaiah 55:6-9; Luke 19:1-10
The Rev. Tom Herbek
March 4, 2018
In Jesus’ day, “salvation”– to be saved– meant something very different than what fundamentalist Christians mean by it today. When Jesus used the word “salvation,” he was referring to healing and wholeness, which the people understood in the same way.
The prophet Isaiah very eloquently says that we need to take advantage of those special opportunities that come to us to find out who God really is, opportunities that also allow us to become who we have been created to be. Isaiah says that God “will abundantly pardon,” that what God sees as important is so much higher, so much more important than our view, and that God will not hold it against us when we miss what is important, and we spend our energies and time on other activities. In fact, when we come to our senses, the joy and peace and forgiveness that are ours, are so big that it seems like the mountains will sing and the trees will clap their hands.
Several centuries later, Jesus showed what it is like to “abundantly pardon,” to call out the best in someone, even when they have not had the best track record in town. Going through Jericho, he spotted a man up in a tree. Zaccheus had climbed up a sycamore tree because he was so short he couldn’t see over the crowd. He was one of the richest and one of the most despised people in all of Jericho. A collaborator with the Roman occupiers, he collected taxes for them, working on commission. In fact, he could add anything he wanted to keep for himself to the actual tax bill. And he had the power to jail anyone who did not pay.
A success in wealth, Zaccheus was a failure in so many other ways: isolated, alone, despised. Yet Jesus spotted him and told him to hurry up and get down out of the tree because Jesus was going to be a guest at Zaccheus’ house that day. Luke writes that Zaccheus hurried down and was happy to welcome Jesus. It was probably the first time anyone had wanted to be around him in a very long time.
Certainly everyone who saw what happened grumbled about it, thinking Jesus had lost his mind, that Jesus should have known better. But Jesus’ visit caused Zaccheus to change in extraordinary ways, to get in touch with that part of himself that was compassionate and kind, that part that was no longer interested in taking advantage of people. And Jesus uttered those wonderful words: “Today salvation has come to this house.”
And then, to the bystanders who were ready to condemn Zaccheus, and who thought Jesus had lost his mind, Jesus said: “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Having a perfect history and living a perfect life are not prerequisites for God to use us, for God to bless us and call us to new opportunities, to become who God has created us to be. Jesus’ message was clear: We can always change for the better; it is never too late.
The gospel has always been good news to those who have given up on themselves, those who have spent their energies and time going after the dead ends of fame and fortune. The gospel says very clearly that our past does not define who we are or who we can be. The future is open, and the present is pregnant with possibilities that we have not yet realized.
God’s will for each of us is always bigger than what we bargain for, always filled with surprises that beckon us to become more of who we have been created to be.
We never know what impact our choices will have. Kent Nerburn comments, in his book Simple Truths: “Life is an endlessly creative experience, and we are shaping ourselves at every moment by every decision we make.”
And author Mark Nepo writes:
Who will live your life? The answer is obvious. Yet the difficulty is not in knowing the course, but in accepting the many ways we give our life away, accepting the many ways we abdicate the one outright gift we have.
Too often, we’re told that to live in the real world we must give up our dreams in service of a survival that looms as pragmatic. In truth, it’s the opposite. Living in the world in a real way requires the evolution of an interior life, and much of our health depends on how we, at our porous best, negotiate the infiltration of outer life and the release of inner life.
-“Who Will Live Your Life?”
When we are able to come down from the tree and encounter God in a new way, we then become connected to health and wholeness and compassion in a way that surpasses anything we thought possible. When we are able to make the move, at the right time and in the right way, it will feel precisely as if we have lost nothing of importance. It will feel like freedom and liberation. It is at that moment when we realize that God is not so much an idea. Instead, we discover that God is loving us, being compassionate, bringing healing, making us whole- all actions that impact our lives.
It is amazing that the turn-around for Zaccheus from his former life to a new life happened so quickly. Except that– it probably had been brewing for a long time. Joan Chittister calls what brings us to the point of making such dramatic changes in our life “the noise within the silent self”:
I know now that whatever it is that is troubling us is not outside of us. It is inside of us. Rattling around. Muttering. Waking a person up in the dregs of the night. Filling our dreams with specters and sweat. Echoing loudly in the emptiness within us. One great cacophony of internal noise that goes with us wherever we are. Always.
And yet, this noise in me is the voice of the Spirit calling me to attend to what I have long ignored or denied or forgotten. It is the challenge to face up to the unfinished business of my life. To resolve what I regret. To confront whatever it is that is blocking my ability to live a life free of consternation, alive with joy. Indeed, we can’t ever really run away from anything. We can only settle it or be harassed by it all the nights of our life.
The choices are life-changing yes, but internal noise indicates clearly that this life as we are living it now needs somehow, some way- to be changed.
-Between the Dark and the Daylight
By the fact that Jesus accepted Zaccheus, Jesus enabled him to break open his former life and to salvage what was aching in his soul and begin to live the life aching to be born. Sometimes we are able to make significant changes in our life all by ourself, but- more often than not- we are lucky enough to have someone accept us and enable us to move forward into something new. Jesus was the enabler who believed in the possibilities in Zaccheus. I hope that Zaccheus also was able get other support for his decision to make such extraordinary changes in his life.
When salvation comes to our house, comes to our lives, we need enablers who will encourage us, strengthen us, and sustain us in our new path. The church must be such a place of support and encouragement and compassion.
A physician once said: “The physician’s primary job is to entertain the patient, while the body heals itself.” Perhaps we could say the same of the church: The church’s primary job is to entertain the members of the church family, while the soul heals itself. We are here to entertain each other, while God heals us all.
Even when we would like to climb the highest tree, God comes to us, and says to us that it is time to begin again, to renew and refresh and become who we have been created to be.
May we be God’s hands and feet and voices to bring healing and wholeness to each other, enabling each other to listen to the noise in our souls that is calling us to become who we have been created to be. May our acceptance, our compassion, our listening ear, and our companionship enable those we encounter each day- friends and family and strangers– to hear the call of God, calling us each to allow healing and wholeness to come into our lives.
And when that begins, we, too, will know that salvation– healing and wholeness– have come into our lives, and that we are no longer floundering, no longer lost, and the noise in our souls has been healed.