Zacchaeus and Mary
The Installation of the Rev. Mary Blessing as Vicar of St. Philip’s, Scotts Valley CA
Feast Day of St. Simon and Jude
Readings: Luke 19:1-10; Ephesians 4:4-16
October 28, 2006
The Rev. Karen Siegfriedt,
Rector, St. Jude’s, Cupertino, CA
On the morning of March 28th 1954, two particular female children entered this world. One was born on the west coast to a well-educated Protestant family and the other was born on the east coast to an Irish-Catholic family struggling to make it in the world. At that time, there were no obvious reasons why these two women would ever come into contact with one other. But in God’s kingdom, there are many wonderful surprises. In 1989, they met each other for the first time at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific as seminary students. In 2000, they met once again when their lives were joined together in ministry at St. Jude’s in Cupertino. One of these women is standing before you preaching this homily while the other is about to be installed as Vicar of St. Philips. So on this feast day of St. Jude the Apostle, the icon of hope, it is an honor and a delight, once again, to meet with Mary Blessing and to celebrate her new life as vicar of this church.
It is into this context of celebration, hope, and faith that we hear today’s gospel story about Jesus and Zacchaeus. This is a story of hope, abundance, and transformation. Jesus is traveling through Jericho when he meets a very rich man who happens to be the chief tax collector of the region. In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were viewed as outcasts whom the people of Israel rejected. The way the “IRS” system worked in first century Palestine, was that Roman officials would contract with local entrepreneurs to collect the taxes, tolls, tariffs, and customs fees in a given area. These entrepreneurs, the “chief tax collectors,” were required to pay the contract in advance. They would then employ others to collect the taxes with the hope that the amount collected would yield a profit. This system was open to much abuse. Tax collectors were assumed to be dishonest and thus were hated by other Jews for their complicity with Gentile oppressors.
As the story unfolds, we are told that Zacchaeus is drawn to Jesus. Jesus is drawn to Zacchaeus who is up in a tree, hovering above the crowds, to get a good look. Jesus has a real gift as well as a willingness to look beyond the exterior of this outcast. He invites himself to dinner at this rich man’s house which touches Zacchaeus deep within his soul. Being in the presence of such grace and compassion, Zacchaeus is moved to share 50% of his wealth with the poor and needy.
There are a few things that stand out for me in this text. The first is, that this despised tax collector was willing to expose himself to ridicule in order to get a better glimpse of Jesus. It was considered undignified in those days for a grown man to run. And a man of his importance would certainly not climb a tree in order to get a better view. It shows just how compelling Jesus is, even to those whom we would never expect.
The second thing that stands out for me is that Zacchaeus is drawn to Jesus not through a deep theological conversation or because he is offered the perfect Christian education program. Zacchaeus enters into relationship with Jesus because Jesus takes the time to embrace him and to have dinner with him in spite of his status as an outcast.
Finally, this story challenges some of the common wisdom of the day such as: “Birds of a feather flock together” and “you can judge a person by the company he keeps.” Jesus and Zacchaeus began on opposite sides of the spectrum and yet came together simply because Jesus took the time to reach out in mercy and kindness.
Now some of you may be wondering why I selected this particular gospel reading on the occasion of the installation of your new vicar. I did so, because I see a lot of similarities between the character of your new vicar and the character of this story.
Zacchaeus was short in stature, yet a very powerful and influential person. Zacchaeus moved heaven and earth to get a glimpse of Jesus. Pastor Mary will do whatever she has to in order to keep her eyes fixed on Jesus. She will be encouraging you to do the same. Zacchaeus subjected himself to ridicule by running and climbing a tree. Mary has always been a fool for Christ and will do what she has to in order to spread the good news. Zacchaeus hurried down from the tree in order to welcome Jesus into his home. Mary also has a real gift for hospitality; welcoming the stranger, the newcomer, the outcast, and the needy. She will be encouraging you to do the same here in Scotts Valley.
Zacchaeus was willing to look at his past errors and make amends. Pastor Mary is not afraid of admitting when she has made an error or has hurt someone in her dealings. Longing to remain in relationship with parishioners, she is a true reconciler. Be aware however, that this is the first time she has ever been a vicar. This means that she will be on a sharp learning curve for a couple of years. So be patient! And if and when she does fail, please err on the side of mercy, offering her your kindness and forgiveness so that new life becomes possible.
Once Zacchaeus entered into relationship with Jesus, he was willing to share abundantly with those in need. Having a personal relationship with God in Christ is “key” to good Christian Stewardship. Christian stewardship is about recognizing and giving thanks to God for all of the blessings in our lives. It is from this posture of gratitude that we share what we have been given for the building up of the kingdom of God. Mary is a very generous person. She tithes to the church and gives freely to other concerns. She deeply believes that the Church plays a key role in ushering in the kingdom of God: the kingdom of love, peace, compassion, mercy, and inclusivity. So she will be encouraging you to tithe and to give generously to mission of the church. She will be asking you to move beyond a posture of fear and scarcity to a posture of love and generosity. In order for St. Philips to have a future, you must give generously of your time, talent, and treasure.
I know that these last two years have been a rough road for the people of St. Philip’s as you said good-bye to your founding vicar and dealt with disappointments during the transition. But it is time to let go of the past and look forward to the future. We are here today to celebrate a new beginning. Bathed in the love and grace of God, we can enter into a deeper relationship with Christ where all things become possible.
So don’t forget to keep your eyes on Jesus. Scurry down from your perches and welcome the newcomer, the unchurched, and the outcast. Recognize the abundance, the talents, and the wonderful gifts that have been bestowed upon the people of St. Philip’s and generously share these gifts with others. “Speak the truth in love and grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together...promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” [Ephesians 4]
Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.