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Seeing and Being Seen 2 Thess 1; Luke 19:1-10

Carnivals and sideshows sometimes have an attraction of crazy mirrors. The body length mirrors are not straight like the ones we have in our homes, but full of curves and angles. Some of the mirrors make you look extraordinarily tall and skinny, others make you look squat and fat, some leave your bottom half unaffected but your top half severely distorted, and vice versa. As people pass in front of them its fun to see their shrieks of delight, horror and self-consciousness.

Looking for Jesus
How we look at ourselves or at others can sometimes be badly distorted. Whilst it is fun at the fair with crazy mirrors, the way we see others or ourselves can have a serious side, too. Many people know the story of Zacchaeus especially from Sunday School lessons. What we may be less aware of is that it comes as part of the longer story of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. He sets off, telling his disciples how he will suffer, die and rise again, but Luke tells us that they could not see Jesus in this light. “What he said was hidden from them and they did not grasp what was said”. Zacchaeus lived in Jericho and as Jesus reached the outskirts of this town he met and healed a blind man. A crowd began to form in response to this miracle, and Zacchaeus was surely one among many who wanted to see who this Jesus was.

Notice what Luke says: he wanted to see who Jesus was, not simply he wanted to look at Jesus. As a tax collector probably Zacchaeus knew a lot about who various people were – what they did, how they got their money, what they owned and who their families were. Knowing who people were was part of his way of life. Sadly, though, as many tax collectors were, they took advantage of their situation, and took too much tax from people, keeping what they didn’t have to pass on to the Roman authorities. Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was rich. He was also a short man. So the way Zacchaeus was seen by others was not very complimentary – he was rich, unfairly so, and short along with it. Being stuck behind the crowd, unable to see in a way symbolised the way he was isolated and shunned by the society that he should have belonged to.

From Seeing to Being Seen
But Zacchaeus was not going to let this beat him. Short he might have been, but he was still capable of climbing a tree, even though the sycamore may have been fairly easy to climb into. He found a good branch to sit on and waited for Jesus to pass by. What Zacchaeus had not bargained for was that he was not going to remain simply a spectator. Jesus came near enough for Zacchaeus to see, but he also came near enough for Jesus to see him. Not only did Jesus see him, but he spoke with him – he noticed Zacchaeus. Everything changes for Zacchaeus from this point. From wanting to see, he is being seen. Jericho was an important town on trade routes, and many passed through. No doubt tax was collected from goods being transported through the town – Zacchaeus always saw who and what was passing through and took. But now this one who was passing through stopped, looked up at Zacchaeus and spoke to him. Most people did not speak to the tax collector if they could help it – they avoided him – pushed him to the outside of the crowd if they could.

Jesus may have been intending to pass through Jericho, but now he tells Zacchaeus that he wants to stop and to keep company with him. This is where everything changes for Zacchaeus. He cannot entertain Jesus with his ill-gotten gains. He cannot remain outside of good company if this good man is asking to stay with him. So Zacchaeus finds far more than he thought he was looking for and this is shown in the change in his life: he starts to give back to people what he has unfairly taken from them, and he also sets about giving to those who have little or nothing. Zacchaeus rediscovers who he himself really is: a son of Abraham, a true descendent of those who have faith in God and show it by their actions.
From curiosity to conversion
How we see and how we are seen make a difference. One of the things that has grown more obvious as I have spent years in ministry is how people who do not belong to the Church see us. Most of the people who turn to the Church’s ministry to help them with their baby, their marriage or a death in the family see it in a similar way to many other forms of support and service in today’s society. They see the Church’s ministry in transactional terms – you provide a service, a commodity, and I pay you for it. Once the ceremony is over, I go on my way through life until I may need you again. You don’t expect to have a long-lasting relationship with a place where you buy something, to become involved with it. Similarly, people don’t expect to be involved with the Church. It is easy for us who are the Church to become cynical and hardened against such attitudes – we feel used.

But if we are to be like Jesus, perhaps what we need is to find ways of responding like Jesus did to Zacchaeus. We may at first be seen simply like Zacchaeus wanting to watch Jesus. Others wish to see, to get what they want but not to become involved. Jesus stopped and paid Zacchaeus attention – he saw him for who he could be, not who he was behaving like at the time. When Zacchaeus realised he was being noticed, valued for being a man who could once again be a real son of Abraham, he began to change. We may become frustrated with those who simply use the Church, but if we pay them attention, show interest in their lives, and see that they, too, could be converted, could respond to the power of Jesus to change them, perhaps we would have more Zacchaeus’s in our fellowship.

At a fair ground we know we’re seeing ourselves and others reflected in distorted mirrors. That’s what makes it such fun. In real life we are not always aware of the distortions that make us see or be seen in wrong or false ways. Pray that we may see ourselves and others in a truer light!

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith




God of glory,
touch our lips with the fire of your Spirit,
that we with all creation
may rejoice to sing your praise;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.