By The Rev. Sherry Crompton

October 31, 2010

Read: Luke 19:1-10

Spiritual writer Edward Hays shares a story from the desert fathers and mothers, in which a young man goes to visit a wise hermit. He finds the monk sitting outside his cave, enjoying the sun, his dog lying lazily at his side. The seeker asks, “Why is it, Abba, that some who seek God come to the desert and are zealous in prayers, but leave after a year or so, while others, like you, remain faithful to the quest for a lifetime?

The old man responds, “One day my dog and I were sitting here quietly in the sun, as we are now. Suddenly, a large white rabbit ran across in front of us. Well, my dog jumped up, barking loudly and took off after that big rabbit. He chased the rabbit over the hills with a passion. Soon, other dogs joined him, attracted by his barking. What a sight it was, as the pack of dogs ran barking across the creek, up stony embankments, and through thickets and thorns! Gradually, however, one by one, the other dogs dropped out of the pursuit, discouraged by the course and frustrated by the chase. Only my dog continued to hotly pursue the white rabbit.”

Confused, the young man asks, “What is the connection between the rabbit chase and the quest for God?” The hermit replies, “why didn’t the other dogs continue the chase? They had not seen the rabbit.” They were only attracted by the barking of the dog. But once you see the rabbit, you will never give up the chase. Seeing the rabbit, and not following the commotion, was what kept the old monk in the desert.

Once our heart’s eye has seen God, if only for a moment—we are drawn to seek God forever. Something draws us to this place of worship, this gathering of loving, struggling, beautiful, and flawed people…this font of blessing, this table that feeds us with God’s love and promise.

I wonder what Zacchaeus wanted when he climbed that tree. He knew that Jesus was passing through Jericho and wanted to see him. With the crowd so huge, Zacchaeus couldn’t see over them. When he climbed the tree, was he just curious about this traveling miracle-worker? Did he want a glimpse of the man who was creating such a buzz? Was a glimpse of Jesus simply a momentary distraction, a bit of excitement in an otherwise routine day? Did Zacchaeus want something more out of seeing Jesus? Did he hope that perhaps seeing Jesus would bring him a little bit of peace, some comfort? Was climbing the tree to see Jesus like rubbing Buddha’s belly for luck? When everyone else hates you, you will do anything to feel better. Maybe seeing Jesus would make Zacchaeus feel better. Maybe for just a moment he wanted to feel part of the crowd, as though he fit in. Maybe he didn’t quite know why he climbed the tree. Whatever his reason, whatever his mixed motives, we can be sure that when Zacchaeus climbed the tree he didn’t expect what happened.

Did Zacchaeus know the danger of climbing that tree? When he was a boy, did his mother tell him to be careful climbing trees? It can be dangerous. Even grown men fall out of trees, resulting in serious injury. Zacchaeus finds that climbing trees can be dangerous for reasons other than broken bones. After he climbed that tree, his life changed forever. Climbing that tree cost Zacchaeus half of all he owned.

Something happened to Zacchaeus up in that tree. He may have wanted only a glimpse, but he received something that penetrated to his soul. Luke doesn’t tell us how Jesus knew Zacchaeus’ name, but he looked up into the tree and made contact. We don’t know why Jesus singled Zacchaeus out, why he spoke only to him. All we know is what Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” That doesn’t seem like much does it? Could an invitation to dinner be that life-changing? Something in Jesus’ words touched Zacchaeus; something made a difference.

Standing under the tree, Zacchaeus pledges to give away half of his money, and pay back those he has defrauded fourfold. Something serious happened inside Zacchaeus. Luke doesn’t let us in on the process. We don’t see inside Zacchaeus’ heart. We don’t see him crying and weeping for his sins. We don’t feel him give up his death-grip on his feelings of guilt. We know only that he is a changed man, and that the change really matters.

Once our heart’s eye has seen God, if only for a moment—we are drawn to seek God forever. Beggars and rich people… it made no difference to Jesus. If they opened their hearts to him, Jesus was more than happy to save them.

Fortunately, for all of us, we don’t have to climb up in a tree. But when it comes to our hearts, nothing less than one hundred percent will do. Why? Because it isn’t about the money. It really isn’t about the money.

Lord, reach down deeply into our hearts and remove anything – anything – that would keep us from coming to you. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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