âJust looking, thanks.â When a salesperson in a store approaches us to see if they can be of assistance, we may say these words to keep them at a safe distance: just looking. Weâre interested, but not willing to commit; curious, but donât want someone pressuring us into making a purchase. Just looking, thanks. Zacchaeus was curious that day when Jesus came to Jericho. The crowd was big and he was small, so shinnied up a sycamore tree â the perfect solution. He was high above the noisy crowd and he could get a glimpse of Jesus from a safe distance. Besides, letâs admit it, he didnât have any friends in the crowd. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector for the Roman government in this prosperous town, and his position may have made him the most hated man in all of Jericho. He worked for the occupying forces and was therefore a traitor to his own people. Whatâs more, he made money off his neighbors as part of a system primed for corruption. He was obliged to send in only what the Romans expected. Anything he took in above that, he was free to keep. âHe was wealthy,â reads our text, in his case an indictment rather than a description. Who would make room for him in a crowd? Who would want to be seen with him? One day, along comes Jesus. The word has spread about Jesus, and Zacchaeus is one of the many in Jericho who want to see him. But what does Zacchaeus expect to see? Would he like what he saw in Jesus, or not? On the one hand, maybe he has heard that Jesus was known for eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. Maybe he has heard that in some of Jesusâ stories, itâs the tax collector who is the hero, and the Pharisee who comes across as the fool. Maybe he has heard that a man named Levi, who was a tax collector, is among Jesusâ closest followers. On the other hand, maybe Zacchaeus has heard that Jesus told the rich man to sell all that he had and follow him. Maybe he has heard Jesusâ statement that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. And after all, Levi had to leave his tax collectorâs booth behind in order to follow this Jesus. So maybe the most we can say with any confidence about Zacchaeus is that he is curious. He wants to see Jesus; he doesnât want to meet him. He doesnât want to touch him, or be touched by him. He certainly doesnât come to him for healing. He wants to observe from a safe distance. Zacchaeus thinks he is safe in the tree where he can watch, where no one will confuse him with the cheering crowd, where no one needs to know where he stands. Where he canât touch or be touched. Where he is safe to say, âJust looking, thank you,â if anyone accidentally spies him up there. âJust looking.â And suddenly this strange little man in a tree seems a little more familiar. Donât we all have times when it is easier to stay in our tree, to watch the events of the world as a spectator, rather than come down and get involved? Rather than come down amongst the crowd, and the dirt, and the noise, and the needs, and the confusion, and put one foot in front of the other and follow Jesus? Isnât it easier sometimes to say, âJust looking,â when asked to help, to give, to get involved? Thereâs a different sermon for those among us who try to do everything, who need to learn to say no, who need to work on some Sabbath time. But for others of us, is it time to get involved, to stop being a spectator, and join the action? Maybe it is time to take on some ministry in the church, to get involved in the community. Maybe itâs time to vote, to serve, to say yes. Sometimes getting involved in a church takes a leap of faith. âChurch shoppingâ is not a bad thing â many of us âshoppedâ our way into the Episcopal Church, or into a particular parish church. Itâs important for people to look around, to explore different faith communities, to find a place where they can worship, grow, participate, serve, be at home, and yet, be challenged too. But there can be a danger sometimes that people donât ever come down out of the tree and say, âThis is it. Here I am. Iâm getting involved.â Or in our faith lives: wanting to see Jesus is a good thing, but do we keep him at armâs length? Do we ponder him from a distance, rather than meet him, come to know him, to love him, to serve him, to be changed by him? Rather than grow more and more into his image and likeness? Rather than discover the meaning of our lives through a deep relationship with him, empowered by prayer, nurtured by participation in the faith community, nourished by the sacraments? That day in Jericho, Jesus looks up into the tree. He sees the little man clinging to his branch and commands him to hurry down, because Jesus needs him â his hospitality, his welcome, his company. Jesus plucks Zacchaeus out of his tree, and Zacchaeus is happy to welcome him. Zacchaeus could have said no. It would have cost Zacchaeus less. It would have attracted less attention. It would have prevented the townspeople from having one more reason to grumble about something Zacchaeus did. We know it may seem easier to go on with our own lives and continue our preoccupation with ourselves and our own agendas rather than allow the Messiah to invite himself over to lunch and allow him to delve into our truest selves. It might be easier to say, âJust looking, thank you.â But if weâre honest, we know from experience that it is not easier to go on with our own preoccupations, to try to take care of our worries ourselves; that actually there is a tremendous ease and grace in letting Jesus take our burdens from us, to giving ourselves over to Christ, to letting Christ set our agendas. It really is easier to stop scrambling up trees and allow ourselves to know the one who knows us completely and loves us still. Like Zacchaeus, we can take the chance, invite Jesus in, and watch the radical realigning of our lives. Zacchaeusâ life changes greatly. Something in his encounter changed the way Zacchaeus saw the world. Now he could see people in need, whereas before he only saw people he could use. Thatâs part of what happens when we come out of the tree and allow Jesus to touch us. Whereas before we might just be looking, Jesus enables us really to see. Now we see real people with real needs. We see real opportunities to get involved. We see true beauty in others. We see the astonishing array of gifts God has given us and our community. Salvation comes to Zacchaeusâ house and he is forever changed from a taker into a giver. And Zacchaeus is not unique. We see it over and over again. When Jesus finds a home with us, the result is a generous heart. Giving is a joy, not a burden. Whatâs given may be money, may be time, may be some ability that can be shared. But time and time again, when Jesus plucks us out of our tree, we ripen into givers, not takers; workers, not watchers; people who serve, not observe. Jesus isnât just coming to our town. Jesus is already here. And he may be looking up at you, inviting you out of some safe, but lonely perch, and into the kingdom of God.
Just Looking..., Proper 26 (C) - 2007
November 4, 2007