Tag Archives: Anglican Dominicans

Hurry Down!

zaccheaus

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19: 1-10.

The full readings for today can be found here.

 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.

In the name of the living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

          Good morning, good morning. It is always a great pleasure to be with you, to be among my friends in my second church home.

          One of my favorite stories in our Anglican tradition is about a young man in England. His mother died of consumption, which we now call tuberculosis, and at age 11 he went to sea with his father. He worked on merchant ships and was later pressed into service with the Royal Navy, and thereafter became involved in the slave trade, acting as a first mate aboard a slave ship and later as an investor in the slave trade. Years later, he became a priest and an abolitionist and was forced to confront what he had done. He apologized for “a confession, which … comes too late … It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” His name, of course, was John Newton and he wrote one of our most famous hymns, Amazing Grace. I love the story of John Newton because it illustrates that we’re never too far gone for God’s love and mercy to break our hearts and change our lives.

          Speaking of that, this is the second week in a row that we’ve had a story about tax collectors. We get the feeling that Luke is trying to tell us something. You’ll remember that last week we studied the story of the proud Pharisee and the tax collector who begged for God’s mercy.

          It might help us to understand just why tax collectors were viewed as such a loathsome bunch of people. It went deeper than simply saying nobody likes to pay taxes, although it almost certainly included that. First, under the Roman system, tax collectors were paid very poorly. The only way one could make a living at that profession was to charge more than the taxes that were actually owed. Yes, acting as collector almost required that one would engage in fraud and oppression. Further, we remember that the Jewish people were under a Roman occupation. Anyone who collected taxes for the Roman was viewed as a collaborator.

          Now, the other thing we know about the man called Zaccheaus is that he was rich, which means that he was good at the job of collaboration with the Romans. To be a wealthy tax collector almost certainly meant that he was involved in corruption, extortion and embezzlement. And Zaccheaus wasn’t just any tax collector, he was the chief tax collector.

          So, there’s a certain irony already hidden in this story, because the name Zacchaeus means “the clean one” or “righteous.” But at first blush, he doesn’t seem all that righteous at all. But Luke loves to turn our expectations on their head, just like his rabbi Jesus did.

          Now we know two other things about Zacchaeus.  We know he was a little man, and thus was compelled to climb into a sycamore tree to see Jesus.  We also know that he was looking for Jesus, that he was seeking Jesus.  In fact, he runs ahead so that he can see the Lord.

          Now, climbing into a tree tells us something else about the man called Zacchaeus.  Very few grown men can climb into a tree and maintain their sense of dignity.  Thus we know that Zacchaeus was willing to humble himself in order to see this man called Jesus. Perhaps that’s because his past had separated Zacchaeus from both his community and from God. I suspect it took a good deal of courage to climb into that tree. I suspect it took a good deal more to come down and face Jesus.

          But we get the feeling that just as eagerly as Zacchaeus was looking for Jesus, Jesus was looking for Zaccheaus as well.  Scripture tells us that Jesus looked up and saw him. Now the Greek word there is anablepo, which often implies looking up to heaven. But when Jesus looks up, he finds the face of a man who needs the love of God in his life.  Jesus calls out to him, telling him to climb down and invited himself to Zaccheaus’ home.
Although Zaccheaus has been living a terribly sinful life, Jesus accepts him as he is, embracing this little man, this tax collection, unconditionally.  Perhaps it’s that acceptance that brings about the change in Zaccheaus. Love can do that sort of thing.

          The response of the crowd to Jesus’ acceptance is predictable. Once again, people are grumbling about the company that Jesus keeps. He just seems to delight in spending his time with sinners and tax collectors. I’m reminded of something that Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said. He said “God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are really quite low.” And that’s why we call these gospels “good news.”

          In that world, at that time, no self-respecting Jew would have spent any time with, let alone spent the night with, a tax collector. And yet this man Jesus was eager to do just that, offering Zaccheaus acceptance and rejecting the notion that he was an outsider, that he was unclean. Jesus liberates Zaccheaus from his past and from his shame. And in the final analysis, it’s not just Zaccheaus’ house where Jesus stays; he takes up residence in his soul.

          One of the overarching theme’s of Luke’s Gospel is the welcome that Jesus offers to sinners. We see that in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the woman of the city who bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears, and the story of the prodigal son. Our capacity to sin can never outrun God’s capacity to love us and forgive us. That’s worth repeating: our capacity to sin can never outrun God’s capacity to love and forgive. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Now we get to the linchpin of the story, and it’s an interesting and curious thing. This may be a moment of Zaccheaus’ conversion. Our text provides, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” But there are several good Greek scholars who think a better translation is something called the present progressive tense. In other words, they think it should read, “Lord, I always give half of my wealth to the poor, and whenever I discover any fraud or discrepancy I always make a fourfold restitution.” In other words, rather than a sinner who promises he will repent, that reading presents Zacchaeus as a saint whose righteousness was known only to Jesus.

In one sense, it really doesn’t matter whether Jesus saw the goodness that was already there in Zaccheaus (a righteousness that no one else could see) or whether he saw a capacity for goodness to which the crowd was blind. Either way, Jesus recognizes Zaccheaus for what he really is: a son of Abraham, a beloved child of God.

            That, I think, leads us to the real challenge of this Gospel. Can we see the hidden goodness in God’s children? Can we see the capacity to repent? In this season of stewardship, can we learn to be good stewards of the people God has put into our lives? Just as we do with our money, can we use the gifts of the people that God brings to us for the kingdom? Can we encourage them to become their best selves, to live like sons and daughters of Abraham, to live into the image of God into which they were created? Can we call them down out of the trees in which they are observers, and invite them to join into the life of the kingdom? Or are we willing to crawl down out of the tree where we safely watch Jesus pass by, and invite the Son of Man into our homes? I invite you to hurry down, because He wants to stay with you. Amen.

James R. Dennis, O.P. © 2016

Why I Am a Dominican

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

As novices in the Dominican Order, we regularly engage in study and reflection together.  On a weekly basis, we will take a passage or a concept and each write an essay.  Each of us will then comment on each other’s work, so that our study becomes part of the bond of our community.  This past week, our topic required us to reflect on our experience of worship.  Mary, one of my Dominican sisters,  wrote the following piece:

Well the week of worship started a little differently.

Last week I was driving my son to the doctor and we passed the sign leading to one of our prominent suburban parishes currently in a rector search. My son said, “Mom – don’t you really wish you could be preaching THERE on Sundays instead of at Saint Otherwise?” Translated from his tone of voice and prior verbalizations – instead of at your hopelessly small, hopelessly underfinanced, hopelessly eccentric and, generally hopeless little congregation. To my surprise I said “yes. I really would.” And then rattled on a bit about frustration and other human emotions. I hate to confess having said this or felt this. I have a very faithful (to the Lord) and loyal (to the church and if truth be known, to its not always so humble rector) congregation. Which is or at least so far has been, persistently small, persistently underfinanced, as eccentric a collection as one would find in any given Episcopal parish, albeit without a lot of average types to absorb the eccentricity. After almost eight years of what sometimes feels like slogging [as our neuralgic deacon likes to point out] (in the most neuralgic ways possible, without ever demonstrating the desire to do anything other than get dressed up on Sundays and chant things) no visually apparent results, I hate to confess that it is harder than I would like it to be to stay with it. And of late I have more often than I would like to confess to you all had a harder time than I should in putting in the prayer, the time, the study, the listening, and all the things that go into the relationship of priest and parish, and preacher and assembly. And I wonder if there will ever be an answer to what seems to be the most lingering congregational question, asked every Sunday possibly since the parish was founded 126.3 years ago: does anyone remember which can has the decaf in it?
Yet when I come on Sunday morning, wondering as I always do whether there will actually be a minyan’s worth of people in the pews, and feeling alone and somehow unblessed in my priestly ministry, getting over the weekly “what do you mean you’re not coming to church and can I ever get out of here on Sunday morning without an argument” conversation at home, we begin the celebration of the Eucharist, with whoever is there, there and whoever is not somehow brought present perceptibly by those who are (I don’t know how they do it but they do – could it be, well love?), and somehow a change begins. Not in them but in me. I look at them and listen to them, and I get up to preach the word with the gospel open behind me. I walk into their midst and they change me. And I don’t remember anything about the suburban church or the congregation replete with potential foursomes for golf and loads of well-groomed acolytes and articulate lectors. And the sermon I didn’t think I had, has me instead, and the words start to remold themselves from what I imagined and hacked away at into living connections to lives and I am somehow between the gospels and those lives as the connections are knit. And I wash my hands among the innocent and begin the Eucharistic prayer. And I look up and down the center aisle through the glass windows of the doors someone came and put in because they knew the old ones needed replacing. And I see a world from which they have gathered. And I look down and the way the sun plays with the reflections of things around the foot of my chalice I see myself, and I see them and I see the high altar cross, all reflecting from the cup from which our Lord asked us to drink together. and I am where I should be, with them, in their dyings and risings and dying again. And I am graced. And I am humbled. And I am home. And another week will turn. Ethel has died at 92 and her son didn’t want a service. and Sophia will have her tenth birthday prayer. Nicholas will insist he is not a saint, and his mother will agree with him. Carolyn will tell us about the family for which we prayed for a year while their six-year-old son died of cancer giving birth to twins. The senior warden will ask if we can have a secret location for the vestry meeting so that the deacon doesn’t come. I will try to think of a canonical way this could happen. Joyce will go back to her husband and son for another six months of abuse in a remote part of Florida and she will weep as I pray a blessing for her and tell her to come back safe in April. George will have laughed at the jokes in my sermon. Mary Kay and Mike will be at home because Mike is sick from the fourth to the last radiation treatment on his spine. When I say “take them in remembrance that Christ died for you” Trish and I will catch each other’s eyes and she will know we are with her when she goes to painful divorce proceedings on Tuesday. The Organ will have ciphered, even though the repair guy said there was nothing wrong. Christ is among us, and hopeless is not a word that can be thought or spoken. That is my Sunday last. And if God is gracious, my Sunday next as well I think.
And I have tried to keep you all, as I do each Sunday, in the midst of its consecratory power.
Peace to all

I am both humbled and proud to call Mary my sister. When I read her piece, I found myself simply struck speechless.  And then I realized that I am too rarely speechless.    And that is why I am a Dominican.
Shabbat Shalom,
James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2011 James R. Dennis