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.
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.
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.
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.
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
© Rev Paul Smith