24 Pentecost, Proper 26 – October 30, 2016
Crowds follow Jesus these days nearly everywhere he goes. They parade behind him and in front of him, crushing in close or watching from a safe distance. They are curious and want to hear, touch, or maybe just see what happens when others interact with this man people say has come from God. What essence does he emanate? What do they sense in him, want from him? Might he not just as easily be a charlatan, a charmer, as a servant of God? What and who is he, really?
Curiosity flutters across the surface of our lives without making much of an impact, but if we become curious enough, doubtful enough, it can be the beginning of a whole new way of seeing. Zacchaeus, one of Jericho’s chief tax collectors, is a wealthy man who likely does not feel in need of whatever this Jesus might be selling. For all we know, he is physically healthy, able to buy and sell and wield his power and position against others to his own benefit. By his own standards he has life well under control and wants for nothing. Except, what is this crawling unease that pesters him, awakening him in the night? His curiosity deepens and turns to longing, pulling him into the parade as Jesus passes through his town. Maybe getting a bit closer to Jesus, seeing him with his own eyes, Zacchaeus can figure out what this stirring is about, why he cares.
Imagine how it goes. You meet someone who already knows your name, knows where you live, knows what you need. Quickly your senses jump from curious to alert. There you are, above it all, trying to get no closer than necessary, when you hear your name. “Come down,” Jesus says, ” … from your old positions, your earlier perceptions, your abuse of power and the suspicions that have separated you from others. I’m going home with you today.” And just like that, Zacchaeus says come on over! One would think he is well practiced in generous extravagance. He opens his hands and gives—his home, his financial resources, his old greed, his new life.
Maybe we don’t need to know more about Jesus as much as we need to be known by him, to come on down into the river of grace and let it carry us to the far shore. All we need is to get close enough to hear salvation invite itself over, and to be ready to say, “Come!” (Kayla McClurg)
In a recent column, “The Power of the Dinner Table,” New York Times columnist David Brooks tells the story of Kathy Fletcher and David Simpson.
“They have a son named Santi, who went to Washington, D.C. public schools. Santi had a friend who sometimes went to school hungry. So, Santi invited him to occasionally eat and sleep at his house.”
“That friend had a friend and that friend had a friend, and now when you go to dinner at Kathy and David’s house on Thursday night there might be 15 to 20 teenagers crammed around the table, and later there will be groups of them crashing in the basement or in the few small bedrooms upstairs.”
“The kids who show up at Kathy and David’s have endured the ordeals of modern poverty: homelessness, hunger, abuse, sexual assault. Almost all have seen death firsthand — to a sibling, friend or parent.”
“It’s anomalous for them to have a bed at home. One 21-year-old woman came to dinner last week and said this was the first time she’d been around a family table since she was 11…Poverty up close is so much more intricate and unpredictable than the picture of poverty you get from the grand national debates. The kids can project total self-confidence one minute and then slide into utter lostness the next. “Thank you for seeing the light in me,” one young woman told Kathy after a cry on the couch.
“I started going to dinner there about two years ago,” writes Brooks, “hungry for something beyond food. Each meal we go around the table, and everybody has to say something nobody else knows about them.”
“Each meal we demonstrate our commitment to care for one another. I took my daughter once and on the way out she said, ‘That’s the warmest place I can ever imagine.’”
“The problems facing this country,” says Brooks, “are deeper than the labor participation rate and ISIS. It’s a crisis of solidarity, a crisis of segmentation, spiritual degradation, and intimacy.”
“The kids call Kathy and David “Momma” and “Dad,” are unfailingly polite, clear the dishes, turn toward one another’s love like plants toward the sun and burst with big glowing personalities.”
“The gift of Kathy and David is the gift of a complete intolerance of social distance,” insists Brooks. Sometimes Kathy and David are asked how they ended up with so many kids flowing through their house. They look at how many kids are out there, and respond, “How is it possible you don’t?”(1)
I think Brooks is spot on. We need to turn to each other’s love and care and compassion like plants toward the sun. We need to be that love and care and compassion, that salvation, for others toward which they might turn. Who better to create solidarity, to mend segmentation, to stimulate spirituality, to insist on the importance of intimacy than the church? Than us?
As church, we speak salvation speech. We speak into existence a different way of being. We speak Kingdom of God speech. Speech that sees the other. Speech that regards the overlooked. Speech that brings together. Speech that unites. Speech that creates community. Speech that gives life and says that salvation is here and now.
We can and we are called to give the same gift as Kathy and David — the gift of a complete intolerance of social distance. That sounds like salvation to me. Amen.
(1) David Brooks, “The Power of a Dinner Table,” The New York Times, October, 18 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/18/opinion/the-power-of-a-dinner-table.html