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8 March. Zacchaeus and Jesus II: The Chief Tax Collector.

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There is seemingly an unimportant phrase at the end of the first sentence of the gospel passage from Luke (19:1-10) given in yesterday’s posting. If you missed it, I recommend scrolling back to it. There are a few words in the beginning that are very easy simply to skim over. The text tells us that Jesus was going through Jericho when ‘…suddenly a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance.’ It’s the words ‘made his appearance’, that are so telling, I believe. They are an English interpretation of the original Greek text, rather than a literal translation of the Greek words, but I believe the translators of the New Jerusalem Bible are using the phrase in order to introduce the reader subtly to the theme of suffering in Zacchaeus’s life. There is a sub-text in these words. Usually when we say So and So “made his appearance” we are smirking. We are putting a negative spin on the words because we are talking about someone who is not very likeable, someone whose actions may have harmed us or a person we love, someone who never enters a public scene without having some ulterior motive. The phrase implies, “Oh no. What’s he doing here?” On this particular occasion a crowd has gathered in order to see Jesus, who was known to be a holy man and a healer. This is an occasion in which a dishonest person and a swindler would not be expected even to be interested.

And, yet, Zacchaeus – a chief tax collector, as the Greek text tells us – was there. Tax collectors were notorious in Jesus’ day for being dishonest, callous, thieving characters, who took more money than they had a right to, in order to line their own pockets. These were Jews who were employed by Rome, the occupying power, and who were therefore considered by devout Jews to be apostates from their own faith, and loyal to ‘the enemy.’ Zacchaeus was no different. If anything, he would have been considered to be worse than many tax collectors, an ‘arch-enemy’, because as chief tax collector, he was in charge of a whole district, and doubtless was responsible for ensuring that those under him did not become too lenient toward those owing tax money. And this man ‘makes his appearance’ – here, of all places.

The people in the crowd probably glance at Zacchaeus warily, then exchange looks with one another. Maybe the only thing that prevents some of the men in the crowd from confronting Zacchaeus is the thought that this, after all, is an event in which a holy man will be present. It would not do to have a brawl. In any case, Zacchaeus had power to ruin anyone who made his life difficult. So, the people in the crowd try to act as though Zacchaeus isn’t there.

That Zacchaeus was ‘blanked’ by the people, that all were complicit in an act of passive aggression against him can be inferred from the text, where it says, He kept trying to see who Jesus was, but he was short and could not see him for the crowd. In other words, the crowd closed ranks against Zacchaeus. They would not let him through. He was a well-known figure not only in Jericho, but in the district. In this setting, had he been a public person of some other profession, with a reputation for kindness and philanthropy, surely he would have been allowed to pass through. A little murmur of recognition would have gone through the crowd, and Zacchaeus would have found a pathway opening up for him, making it possible for him to move forward. But nothing of the kind happens. He is ostracised.

SJC

 

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7 March. Zacchaeus and Jesus – A Different Kind of Healing, I: Introduction.

Palm Sunday Sussundenga, Mozambique 2015 01

At 1m76, 6ft3.5, I am not vertically challenged as Zaccheus was, and my tree-climbing days are less frequent than once they were. But we can all sympathise with Zacchaeus in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus does not add to his physical stature, but instead provides an opportunity for Zacchaeus to grow in heart and mind. This week’s posts are from our friend, Sister Johanna Caton of Minster Abbey in Thanet, Kent. This reading opens the season of Lent in the Eastern Church, so this week we bow to our Orthodox sisters and brothers as we reflect on Zacchaeus’s transformation.

The New Testament story of Zacchaeus has always been a delight to me. It is told only by Luke (19:1-11), and is a story that I love to reread. And, although I had done so many times, I recently began to find new depths in Zacchaeus’s character, and new drama in his story. That is the way lectio divina tends to work. Lectio divina is an ancient Latin term meaning sacred reading, and refers to the daily practice of a slow and prayerful reading of the bible. I have found that in this daily form of prayer, a passage in scripture that I think I understand well will one day suddenly open up further, and new aspects of the text will reveal themselves.

In the story of Zacchaeus, we find a story of healing. But we are not dealing here with the healing of leprosy, blindness, paralysis or any of the other physical disabilities that are usually brought to Jesus for a cure. Zacchaeus is healed on a different level. We know well that the body isn’t the only thing that needs healing. Our spirit, our emotions, the personal history with which we are burdened all need to be healed by the Lord. Oh, we try to cover up these wounds by deploying whatever coping mechanisms we can find in our attempt to survive in an unkind world. Sometimes we have learned to cover up so effectively that we convince even ourselves that these wounds are not there. This, no doubt, is what Zacchaeus had to do, too, and St Luke more than hints at this in his telling of Zacchaeus’s story. I would like to try to look at the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus from this perspective over the next few days in a series of posts.

First, I’d like to review the passage. This translation is from the New Jerusalem Bible.

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town and suddenly a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He kept trying to see which Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I am to stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house,’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And 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 has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

Until a few weeks ago, I saw Zacchaeus as a loveable and slightly comical character. In my mind, he was an older man, short and maybe a bit pudgy – a rich man with a rich man’s girth – a bit of a joker, an extrovert playing to the gallery. But now, I have revised my whole picture of him. We will begin to explore this further tomorrow.

SJC

Zacchaeus would have been unable to see past this crowd. (MAfr)

 

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2 January: Refreshment time.

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A friend of one of my daughters, a Chinese scholar, once posted a picture of her with one of these cups, saying in jest, Here is N drinking tea from 14th Century Yuan porcelain, though this is a 20th Century Staffordshire adaptation of that design.

But this is about tea from Sri Lanka, not China, and the working conditions of the pickers. Pay has long been poor, schooling for the children lacking; and poor pay tempts parents to bring children to work for the few pence they can earn.

USPG’s partners are bringing schools to the children, and they are starting to attend with their parents’ encouragement. People overseas, like us, can help by buying Fair Trade tea.

Here is a prayer from Sri Lanka to go with the tea.

Even as the water falls on dry leaves, and brings out their flavour, so may your Spirit fall on us and renew us, so that we may bring refreshment and joy to others,

I’ll drink to that!

MMB

 

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October 18. Truth telling XII: Dying to Tell the Story.

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It was decades since I had been in Dublin, and even last month I was only passing through, but as my friend led me through Dublin Castle Gardens I noticed this bust and went back to look. Veronica Guerin should not be forgotten.

A career in accountancy gave Veronica Guerin the forensic skills to investigate how Irish drug barons operated, including their money laundering schemes.

Once their crimes were brought into the open by her well researched articles, the gangs set out to frighten her with threats of violence against her and her son. They even had her shot in the leg, but she continued her investigations.

On 26 June 1996 she was shot dead at a red traffic light by two men on a motor cycle. She left a husband and young son. She had prepared a paper entitled ‘Dying to Tell the Story: Journalists at Risk’ to be delivered at a conference in London two days later.

A martyr for the truth, and by no means the last.

Let us pray for all who risk their lives for the truth; the truth that will set us free. And pray for the gift to be not afraid when faced with moments of truth in our own lives.

MMB

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January 26: Reflections from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis. IV.

Francois.Anne. beaupre.1Apologies that we miscalculated where Church Unity Week clashed with The Little Flowers, so that this post got separated; but we conclude this chapter concerning Brother Bernard, Francis’s first follower. More flowers to follow next month.

Of Brother Bernard of Quintavalle, 4.

A certain man whose name was Silvester seeing that Saint Francis gave and let give so much money to the poor, being moved by greed, said to Saint Francis: “Thou hast not paid me in full for the stones thou didst buy of me for to rebuild the church; therefore pay me now that thou hast money.” Therewith Saint Francis, marvelling at his greed and willing not to stir up
strife with him, as a true follower of the holy Gospel, put his hands into the bosom of Bernard; and filled his hands with money, which he put into the bosom of Silvester, saying that if he wished for more, more would he give him.

Silvester being content with these, forthwith was away and gat him to his house: but in the evening bethinking him of what he had done throughout the day, and chiding himself for his
greed, pondering on the fervour of Bernard and the sanctity of Saint Francis, he had from God, on the night following and two other nights, a vision on this wise, that from the mouth of Saint Francis sprang a cross of gold, of which the top reached unto heaven, and the arms
stretched from the East even unto the West. By reason of this vision, he gave away all that he had for the love of God, and became a brother minor, and lived in the Order in such sanctity and grace that he spake with God, as doth one friend with another, whereof Saint Francis ofttimes was witness.

Bernard in like manner had such grace of God that oftentimes in contemplation was he caught up to God: and Saint Francis said of him, that he was worthy of all reverence, and that it was he that had founded this Order; inasmuch as he was the first to leave the world, keeping back naught for himself, but giving all unto the poor of Christ, and, when he took on him the Gospel poverty, offering himself naked in the arms of the Crucified;

Bless we His name,

world without end.

Amen.

Another picture from Christina Chase’s pilgrimage to Ste Anne de Beaupre.

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January 17: Reflections from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis. III.

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Of Brother Bernard of Quintavalle 3

So fared they forth and came to the bishop’s house: and after they had heard the Mass, and continued praying until Tierce, the priest at the bidding of Saint Francis took the missal, and making the sign of the most holy Cross, opened it thrice in the name of our Lord Jesu Christ: and at the first opening appeared the words that Christ spake in the Gospel to the young man that asked concerning the path of perfection: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor and follow me”; at the second opening appeared those words that Christ spake unto the Apostles when He sent them forth to preach: “Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money”; wishing thereby to teach them that for their daily bread they should set all their hopes on God and fix their mind wholly on the preaching of the holy Gospel; at the third opening of the missal appeared those words that Christ spake: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

Then spake Saint Francis unto Bernard: “Behold the counsel that Christ giveth us: come then and fulfil that which thou hast heard: and blessed be our Lord Jesu Christ, who hath deigned to show forth His own life in the holy Gospel.”

This heard, Bernard went out and sold all that he had, and he was very rich; and with great joy he gave all his possessions to widows, to orphans, to prisoners, to monasteries and to hospices, and pilgrims; and in all things Saint Francis helped him faithfully and wisely.

Following Jesus can mean a few nettles and brambles en route! L’Arche Kent on pilgrimage.

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December 2: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxxii – Francis could not fall very far, but he was free.

lifefrancis (2)

The second half of life usually consists of what we have denied in the first half – our shadow; which is not some form of addiction, but failure. We can’t entertain the powerlessness of loneliness, impoverishment, boredom and generally not being in charge. We settle for a kind of pleasure that lacks joy, and even involves denial of joy. We can’t imagine being happy without money, without many options. We have replaced freedom of spirit with freedom of choice.

Why did Francis move into a life of non-power, non-aggression and sine proprio? He was so close to the bottom of life that he could not fall very far, but he was free. He knew that God doesn’t look at our faults and failings, but at the many ways we have been determined to try and say yes [which is what parents hope for seeing their children]. Once experiencing being fully alive we will never fear death, because we will know that we have not just lived but have come alive, and that such life is eternal and another form of it is waiting for us. Which is what Paul urges: reproducing the power of his Resurrection – Phil.3.10.

If I have not lived fully, death will terrify me, not knowing that this is not the end. Working in Zambia showed me a village people who lived – by our standards – with next to nothing. The children played, parents scratched a living from hard ground; but they had something we lack. An attitude with no room for cynicism. When they came together their singing was spontaneous – no hymn sheets; and they smile, with nothing to smile about. Like loving, smiling enjoys its own justification, is not dependent on having a reason to smile.

What do we think about when all else is gone? What did those victims who had no access to computers and phones on the aircraft speak about before the aircraft hit the twin towers? The language we heard was love, nothing else mattered. Life’s only purpose is to live lovingly by choice, and die in the same way. How can this become life’s norm? Be careful of a too ready recourse to detachment. Those victims were far from detached from what mattered. Life’s purpose is not to become detached but attached. For this to be real, other things have to be gently set aside.

AMcC

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November 25: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxv – Final Journey

crososososo1450655040Lampedusa Cross

It is important that Jesus’ death be seen not just as an isolated, individual event, but the death of religious system. The time had come to set people free to worship in spirit and in truth. The significance of riding the donkey mustn’t be lost – this kind of king doesn’t ride horses! A king riding on a donkey was a step too far for the imperial set-up. Kingship now belongs to ordinary folk who ride on donkeys every day.

It was a similar story with the Temple, when he overturned the money-lenders tables. But as this was Passover the military was on hand and he was arrested and removed. The real meaning is Jesus’ life, not his death. It was his way of living that was found to be too provocative. By the time of Calvary it was far too late – the new way was already here, the seeds sown were seed of new life, not death.

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But there was a hesitant period – after his death it was a bit touch and go, the survival of the new way hung in the balance; even those who were with him fled – good men, but when the going got tough… Thank God for the good women – they stayed, right to the end. They came to anoint his body when the Sabbath ritual allowed it, and found the empty tomb. Interesting that Mary Magdalene’s recognition had nothing to do with expressing belief in the Resurrection. It was simply the plain fact that nobody but him spoke her name like that. Where his earthly dwelling ended, his enduring Spirit took over. Yes, he was gone – yet they knew he was alive; alive in a seemingly more real way than before. This was enough to bring back the faint-hearted.

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November 24: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxiv – He washed their feet

footwash

Picture: L’Arche Kent

So many of the dysfunctional illnesses are the result of a distortion in our relationship with the Spirit; living with no place for the spirit. Systemic evil – money is imbued with power and it is painfully apparent that it is not being used creatively. The freedom to empower which is the mission of the Spirit has been undermined by pernicious power games.

When Jesus spoke about prayer and fasting needed for casting out such evil, he was telling us that prayer gets us back in a right relationship with the Spirit; fasting is a form of discipline [art of discipleship] reminding us that we have choices to make and so need discernment. Life challenges us to make prophetic choices, rather than those which are conventional and political. It is allowing the Spirit its rightful place that life-giving choices are made.

Meal sharing is one of the main thrusts of Kingdom living. If priority was given to this we would soon rid the world of want and starvation. When Jesus invited his friends for a meal, he washed their feet – roads were dirt tracks with dust and grit. The first thing a host did was to provide for feet to be washed. No doubt Jesus had his feet washed when he was invited for a meal. But his washing of their feet was saying that his presence was totally inclusive – especially of the non-persons; this would include women as well as social outcasts. Peter objected – Jesus reminded him we are all called to be servants – because that is who God is. The washing of feet is not meant simply in the literal sense – it is to do with making welcome, especially to those excluded. Its significance is welcoming home those who have no home.

AMcC

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October 19, Readings from Mary Webb X: Volatile Sweetness.

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Not once only, but every year, the fair young body of the wild rose hangs upon the thorn, redeeming us through wonder, and crying across the fetid haunts of the money-grubbers with volatile sweetness – “Father . . . they know not what they do.” (Luke 23.34)

Xtlily

I love that expression, volatile sweetness. Worth pondering; how readily do I give out my loving kindness?

I did think of saving this post until Lent, but I miss the wild roses, so here is a reminder of summer. These were beside the Canal near Edinburgh. Christ crucified on the lily is on the Isle of Wight. In different ways Mary Webb and the unknown island artist remind us that all creation is one, and we all have responsibility not to be money-grubbers, but to use all we have, including money (that tainted thing, as the Jerusalem Bible translates the words of Jesus in Luke 16.9) wisely and generously.

And naturally, Laudato Si’!

 

 

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