Text: Luke 19: 1-10
The story of Zacchaeus is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. The dramatic storyline is so inviting that we can find ourselves in the story.
We can be among the crowd. Some of us come with excitement or curiosity, while some others of us come with a little bit of doubt or a lot of questions. However different we are from each other, we all come to see Jesus. There is one thing we are not aware of. We don’t know that there is someone out there who can’t see him because he or she is experiencing a barrier that we are not. We never knew that it was we who created the barrier by the way we interact with one another, by not paying attention to the person or the barrier.
We can find ourselves in that person who is not part of the crowd. His name is Zacchaeus. He is a chief tax collector and is rich. He also wants to see who Jesus is, but he can’t because he is short in stature. That’s true at least on the surface level. On the deeper level, he is facing a real challenge. He doesn’t know anyone in the crowd. No one wants to befriend with him. They put a label on him as a collaborator who serves not his people but the Roman rulers. To the crowd, he represents the unjust system. On the other hand, Zacchaeus might say, ‘somebody has to the job anyway.’ Nowhere does he belong fully. He benefits from the system and yet, he suffers from disconnection and isolation. It’s interesting that the money he has can’t give him the power to access to what he is looking for.
We can also find ourselves among the followers of Jesus, who don’t make an appearance in the story, but who witness to the transformation of Zacchaeus. They find a compelling reason why this story must be told as a means to share the good news. So they become the messengers.
I wonder where you find yourself in the story. Are you among the crowd, among the followers or Zacchaeus or can you find yourself in all of them? In the context of climate crisis, I believe, we must be able to find our place in all of them. Here is why.
First, we are the crowd. One of the biggest challenges when it comes to climate action is indifference. No matter how much scientists are warning us with frightening information on the impacts of climate change, many people don’t feel that way. Our understanding and awareness don’t keep up with the scientific facts. People don’t change by being told what to do. If the enemy we should fight is outside of us, it would be easier to bring everyone together. But the enemy is not that clear or visible. It’s rather insidious because it is ingrained in our beliefs and behaviours. It is how we live. How many of us are willing to fight our own tendencies, our denial, and our desire to have the comfortable lives we have? The tragedy is that those who contribute the least greenhouse gases will be most impacted by the climate change. We first have to admit that we are like the crowd, who appear to be innocent, but their indifference is shutting somebody away.
Second, we are Zacchaeus. We live within the current socio-economic system, and many of us benefit from it because it works for us. However, deep in our hearts, we know it’s not perfect. In fact, we know it’s broken. There has be to be more than what we currently have. There has got to be a better way. We know we don’t have the answer we are looking for. So every day we are seeking, searching and knocking. We come together on Sunday hoping to find the wisdom our planetary community needs. We sing, pray, listen and wait, and we are found by God. We are called by name, and invited to provide hospitality to the stranger, who has now become friend, by breaking bread together – the most intimate and tender form of ministry. Notice what changes Zacchaeus, and what helps transform his life. It begins with a simple yet profound act of paying attention, by looking up, followed by a personal, direct and imperative invitation. Like Zacchaeus, when we know we are seen, understood, and loved, we want to share with others. We pay the equal attention we received to the poor. Everyone wants to be generous because our God is generous. But the seed of generosity can only sprout and blossom on the fertile soil of acceptance and compassion.
Third, we are the messenger. This story could have been forgotten if there was no messenger who told someone else. The story was so important for the first storyteller that he or she had to pass it on to the next and, and the next storyteller did the same to the next and vice versa. Imagine how many people have taken part in storytelling until one day the same story came to you. Indeed this is the story of hope, transformation, restoration and redistribution concerning everyone and everything on earth. The act of remembrance is what keeps us connected to those who have gone before us. It is, I believe, what keeps us going with such determination in our work for climate justice. We fight because we remember what we have lost, and what more will be lost if we don’t fight.
My younger son is learning powwow dance. One day the instructor asked the students if they knew why they were dancing. They gave some various answers but none of their answers seemed to satisfy the teacher. And the teacher finally said, ‘we dance because of those who can no longer dance with us.’ Powwow dancing is how Indigenous people sustain their communities by remembering their ancestors, tradition and spirituality.
We are called to be messengers. We remember how Jesus, the love incarnate, lived, died and rose again. We remember how he brought the abundant life to everyone and everything by self-emptying love to the very last breath. We have the good news to share – how it has changed our lives and how it can continue to change the lives of others.
A different life is possible when we see ourselves in the story. We are the crowd, Zacchaeus and messengers. We can make a difference. We can be different. We will continue to dance and tell the story we have taken part in.