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Sunday 30 October 2022: Fourth before Advent, Thirty-first in Ordinary Time, Proper 26  

We cannot hide from the love of Christ

Luke 19:1-10

By Rosemary Leclercq

Roman Catholic Lay Chaplain, HMP Send

Context: RC Mass in a prison chapel with a congregation of women, some serving long sentences; various ages, different abilities to concentrate and different social and cultural backgrounds

Aim: Prisons are hidden places. At times we can all hide, but Jesus looks beyond our sins because he loves us and sees our dignity and worth whatever we have done and wherever we find ourselves.

I’ve often wondered about Zacchaeus. Did Zacchaeus climb the sycamore tree to get a better look at Jesus or did he climb the tree to get a better look at Jesus AND not be seen? A beautiful sycamore in leaf would have given fantastic camouflage cover.

And I wonder if we have any sycamore trees we climb? Do we have sycamore trees that we climb at points in our life when we don’t want to be seen? And is it time to climb down to meet Jesus?

At the time of Jesus Jericho was a wealthy city - a customs centre on the trade route between Jerusalem and the East. A fantastic place for the tax collector, Zacchaeus to makes loads of money working for the Romans who were occupying Palestine. He collected taxes from the Jewish people for the Romans and also more than a bit for himself and as a result was very rich. He was despised and probably didn’t have too many friends. I think he was probably lonely and isolated putting on a brave, arrogant face!

We hear that Zacchaeus was ‘anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was’ but ‘he was too short and could not see him for the crowd.’ So, Zacchaeus, being (shall we say?) ‘vertically challenged’, runs ahead and climbs up a sycamore tree. Even though Zacchaeus was hated by the Jewish people and probably didn’t want to be in the crowd it is still a little strange that he climbed a tree, don’t you think? As a tax collector he would have had a certain standing in the community, so I’m not so sure he would be likely to literally scramble up trees.

So, is the tree symbolic and does the tree symbolise something for us in our lives today? Did Zacchaeus climbed the tree so he could see without being seen. Maybe he was ashamed of being a tax collector- of stealing from his own people. I wonder if we have ‘trees’ that we hide in from time to time maybe out of shame. A place where we can see without being seen.

Maybe Zacchaeus saw himself as above others and being in the tree looking down made him feel superior. And, maybe unconsciously, we can feel that we are better than the next person. Especially when we are sitting high in our tree looking down and judging!

But Jesus sees us! Even when we are hiding. Suddenly we are not seeing but being seen! Seen for the person we are, warts and all. The murky areas of our life that we prefer to keep hidden. Maybe a persistent buried grudge, a half-acknowledged bitterness. Maybe something we cannot even own up to. And still Jesus loves us. There is no judgement in Jesus for Zacchaeus or for us. No condemnation from Jesus. No demand for repentance – although I think that comes when we are treated with such love and forgiveness.

‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.’ Jesus wants to spend time with Zacchaeus because he loves him. Zacchaeus feels that love, that recognition and acceptance. He feels that joy and peace that only Jesus can give, and he climbs down and his heart is transformed and his way of life changes.

The crowd may have been outraged but Jesus isn’t interested in them - he is interested in the outcast. Jesus always looks to the marginalised, the downtrodden, the rejected. He sees beyond our sins to the person we can become: the best possible version of ourselves. Jesus sees the potential for change in Zacchaeus and he sees it in us too.

Jesus doesn’t demand repentance instead he invites Zacchaeus to come down from his hiding place, his tree. Zacchaeus is given the opportunity for repentance because he is shown such love and acceptance. And Zacchaeus comes down from his lonely branch to stand before Jesus and is changed forever.

So, as Jesus looks up into our sycamore trees and calls us to come down can we climb down, leaving our shame and falsehoods behind us? Can we climb down and welcome Jesus into our lives and hearts? For Jesus sees us clearly as ‘free’ children of God and as such we do not need to hide, because he loves us and wants to be with us. He accepts us as we are, where we are, and he forgives us. Knows us. Cherishes us.

Hear Jesus say to you right now ‘Hurry down, I must stay at your house tonight.’

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