Luke 19:1-10, Luke 6:20-31
All Saints Celebration October 31, 2010
The story of Zaccheaus is one that captured my imagination as a child. We learned a song about him climbing up into a tree so he could see Jesus when Jesus passed by, because he was too short to be able to see Jesus just standing in the crowd. As children, we all knew what it felt like to be too short to see over the towering adults all around us. When important events were happening, we would often feel as though we were forgotten as the adults loomed around and over us, effectively shutting us out from seeing anything except an assortment of pants and skirts and fluttering hands gesturing excitedly. When someone got the idea to put us on their shoulders, we were so grateful for the ability to finally see something. We finally had some perspective on the world around us.
I have been thinking about Zacchaeus’ story from the standpoint of perspective this week. It seems as though he would have had a perfect vantage point from which to watch Jesus enter the town. From his spot up in the tree he probably assumed he could study Jesus without anyone, Jesus in particular, taking any notice of him. But he was wrong, it turns out. Jesus picked him out of the crowd right away and focused his attention on him. The rest of the crowd took notice of Zacchaeus as well, although their feelings about him were not altogether complimentary. To the people of that town Zacchaeus was the man who overcharged them on their taxes and lined his own pockets with the profits. (If you remember, we met another tax collector in last week’s reading, and his reputation was about the same. They were not very popular people.) I imagine that Zacchaeus felt pretty embarrassed, being caught up in the tree as he was. It wasn’t the sort of thing sophisticated men of the world did, after all. But Jesus wiped the possible embarrassment away with his next words, “Zacchaeus, come down for I am going to your house today.” Of all the things people might have expected, of all the responses Zacchaeus might have expected, this was not one of them.
Zacchaeus is a case in point that sometimes, when we risk seeing the world from a new perspective, we gain far more than we ever thought we might. It is easy for us to stay put, to lose ourselves in the crowd, to be content with what is, and not attempt to try something different. But one of the lessons we can glean from this story is that seeking out a new perspective can be a very good thing.
The gospel reading is also a great lesson in perspective. We have all heard the Beatitudes many times, but what intrigued me about them this time, was the perspective they represent. The perspective of the Beatitudes is different from the status quo, different from the normal way we have of looking at things. They really turn things on their heads. Who would think, for example, that you are blessed if you are poor or hungry or grieving? And yet, Jesus invites us to see each of these from a new point of view. He assures us that God is with us no matter what we are going through, and even most especially when we are facing these and other difficulties. Our perspective on these painful aspects of life changes, as we recognize that God is with us in them; and as we consider that maybe God is less present in our lives when there are no particular challenges - not because God leaves us to our own devices so much as because we don’t pay as much attention to God when our lives are moving along smoothly.
Perspective is an interesting thing, and I believe it is something that we learn about from the variety of other people in our lives. Each person who is a part of our lives shows us another facet of the diamond, so to speak. As a part of our honoring of those who have gone before us, I thought it would be inspiring and interesting to share stories of the people who have helped us learn to see faith or life or even God from a new perspective. For me, the person who first taught me about perspective was my grandmother Millie. She took my sister and I bowling when we went to visit. Although grandma was an excellent bowler, with trophies attesting to many perfect scores, Sue and I were not very good at it. But somehow that didn’t really matter. Grandma Millie made the whole excursion fun with no weight on the scores at the end. It was being together, learning from her and sharing something that was her specialty that made these outings fun for all of us. For me that was an important lesson to learn early on. Life is not perfect and there would be plenty of times when I would experience the imperfection, both my own and that of the world and the people around me. Grandma taught me that I could choose to focus on some other aspect of each and every one of those situations and make them into something with at least one small positive element. For this, and for her, I am grateful.
I’d like to open it up now for you to share a story of someone who taught you about perspective.
Loving God, you have brought people into our lives who have shown us the way. They have taught us so much about the world, about you and about ourselves. We are so grateful for all of those who have gone on before us, showing us the way to faithful living in Christ. Amen.