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