July 14, 2000

I must confess that I am tempted at this point to say what one of the Desert Fathers said when he was told that an important visitor had come to interview him in the hope of receiving a word of life. He said, "If he will not be edified by my silence, neither will he be edified by my words." However…

Why is it that Jubilee, so concretely described in Scripture in terms of remission, release and reordering of relationships, remained - and still remains - largely a hope, a dream, a yearning? Can it be because of the hardness of our hearts?

As some sort of cosmic abstraction or a diffuse hope, we welcome Jubilee. But as its conditions impose themselves upon the actual structures of our lives, we recoil and equivocate and find all manner of reasons to make compromises and modifications.

And how quick we are to pass resolutions filled with righteous indignation toward others while failing to recognizing the beam in our own ecclesial eye.

"Unawareness is the root of all evil," the wisdom of the Desert tells us. And indeed, the primary tactic of the enemy of our human nature is not to propose gross patterns of behavior but to keep us unmindful and unaware: "that's just the way things are; it's none of my concern; what do you mean I'm biased?" are some of the attitudes that keep us from seeing clearly and without distortion.

If it is true that we are for one another's salvation, then it is God's intent that we rub against one another, confront one another with the truth of our lives, and break one another open to deeper levels of awareness that take us beyond ourselves and impart clearness of sight - undistorted vision - that allows us to see things and ourselves as they are in the unwavering light of Christ who is our truth.

Jubilee is not just another perspective, super-added to our present, and often self-protective, points of view but a radical shift in how and what we see that sets in motion a series of unsettling critiques that oblige us to ask: what is going on here - in my life, in my perceptions, in my being in the world? And to acknowledge: I was blind but now I see.

What I am talking about here is the mystery of conversion, scales falling from our eyes as they did in the case of Paul. A change of heart, a turning in a new direction occasioned by grace that can pounce upon us without warning "in a flash, at a trumpet crash" - to borrow some vivid words from Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Isaiah, in our first reading describes unawareness in terms of self-justifying ritual which gives the illusion of mindfulness because of appropriate words and liturgical forms. How often we recite the confession with no notion of our sin, and pray the Lord's Prayer with no forgiveness - or even the desire for it - in our hearts? Conversion, coming to awareness, is a break in our patterns. Old ways of thinking and perceiving are challenged by the Spirit of truth who draws from what is Christ's and makes it known to us. "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean" is Isaiah's way of calling us to awareness and conversion to a change of heart and change of direction.

Jesus' call to conversion, as we see it in today's Gospel, takes a very different form. With "quick ey'd love" Jesus glances up in the tree and addressing Zaachaeus, who thinks he is at a safe distance to observe without having to become involved, Jesus says, "Hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." Caught by surprise, riveted through by Jesus' ruthlessly gentle gaze, Zaachaeus comes down. He has been found out and called out of hiding into the light. Suddenly the tax collector, loathed by the people because as such he is in league with Romans who have reduced Israel to an occupied territory, suddenly Zaachaeus is called out of his isolation, imposed from without by the people and from within by his shame.

"Behold," cries the Risen Christ in Revelation, "I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come into you and eat with you, and you with me" (Revelation 3:20). The year of the Lord's favor in the person of Jesus in whom all Jubilee yearnings and hopes are fulfilled, suddenly and shatteringly breaks into Zaachaeus' life. "Hurry and come down, open the door, the door of your heart. I will come into you and eat with you and you with me." Hurry down, cries Jesus, and Zaachaeus "who once was lost is now found." He leaps down in unbounded joy to welcome the one who has so deeply welcomed him. The storehouse of his heart is cracked open as he encounters in Jesus his own belovedness, a belovedness proclaimed in the simple words, "I must stay at your house today." And from his heart, transformed by Jesus' compassion, flows generosity - "half my possessions I will give to the poor" to which Jesus replies "Today salvation" - the year of the Lords' favor - "has come to this house."

Delivered from unawareness, Zaachaeus sees for the first time: sees the poor, sees the distortions in his own life, sees in the fierce light of the Divine Compassion which has embraced him that - in spite of all he has done and become - he is deeply loved. And in the knowledge of that love his heart expands with generosity toward others and Zaachaeus becomes a person of Jubilee.

"Hurry and come down," Christ says to each one of us. Hurry and come down, come down out of your tree of unawareness and enter into the love with which I love you, which is your freedom and your joy. So Frank, Mary, Sharon, Pat, David, whoever you may be, hurry down for I must stay in the house of your heart today.

As we gather up our thoughts, on this the last day of our convention, I invite you to spend a few moments in silence on your own and then share your conversation, asking yourselves questions such as these: how has this General Convention been for me, a time of greater awareness; how has it been a time of conversion; in what ways has my heart expanded; in what ways has the heart of the church expanded; what voices have I heard in the days of this Convention which have been for my salvation; how have I been invited to "come down" out of places of my singularity and aloofness and enter more deeply into the common life we share; what word or phrase might sum up my experience of these days?