Sunday, March 21, 2021

Moriah Hurst: Sightlines to Jesus

Lent 5 - What does faith cost?
Luke 18:31-19:10

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When my brothers and I were little there was a big tree in the front yard. My oldest brother loved to climb but my Mum gave him strict instructions that he could only climb when there were leaves on the trees, or so our family lore is told. When the tree was bare Mum could see how high my brother was climbing and that would terrify her. So he could only climb when there was full foliage and could be hidden by the leaves.

We heard three stories today that give us sightlines to Jesus. Through high school and college I worked in the theater and I remember directors talking to us about sightline. How do people, even those in the back or way off to one side of the audience still feel included in the action on stage. How did we put on a show so that all people could see.

In the first story today Jesus tells his disciples what will happen when they get to Jerusalem. They are given the insider info on where our Lenten journey is heading but yet again they don’t see it. I love verse 34 where it says in three different ways that they didn’t get it. They understood nothing, it was hidden from them and they did not grasp it. As if the author is driving home how very blind the disciples were, their ears and minds stopped from making meaning.

The next two stories contrast each other. First we meet an actual blind man who is sitting by the road begging. He calls out for mercy from Jesus and is given back his sight while being affirmed for his faith. And we finish with the beloved text that many of us remember from Sunday School of Zacchaeus up a tree trying to get a view of Jesus.

There would have been a lot of cultural assumptions about the blind beggar and the wealthy tax collector, Zacchaeus. What happened to make the man blind, was it sin? He was begging outside the city, removed from the center of things and sitting on the ground asking for help. Pitied, looked down upon, and excluded.

“Luke (also) says that Zacchaeus was wealthy. And surprise, surprise, how did a Roman tax collector get wealthy? By extortion and embezzlement. By taking advantage of the elderly, by exploiting the working poor, and by taking care of his cronies. There's an unspoken assumption of corruption here. Zacchaeus is a man who deserves our disdain.”

But both of these men want to see Jesus. And Jesus addresses both because he came for the poor and neglected as well as the wealthy and despised. Reaching out both ways with his love.

Jesus came for the lost, the least and the oppressed, we are used to talking about that but the Zaccheaus story surprises us by Jesus calling someone who is rich. Zaccheaus leaves his dignity on the ground and climbs up a tree. Unlike my brother I did not get the skills for climbing and when I get a few feet off the ground and feel like I want to throw up. I’m not sure how Zaccheaus felt being up the tree but it is Jesus who initiates the contact. Jesus looks up. Jesus invites himself to Zaccheaus house. Jesus doesn’t call him to anything or ask him to repent, Jesus only asks Zaccheaus to be a host. And unlike the blind beggar who calls out to Jesus asking for mercy, Zaccheaus asks nothing of Jesus but only responds with hospitality and generosity. Maybe it is the proximity to Jesus that calls him to a dramatic change in his life, finances and how he conducts his profession.

Do we too need to check our assumptions about other and these stories? Do we see ourselves in the middle economically – not super poor or super rich. This story reaches to the edges – the poor that we know God loves but that we still hold at arms length, we don’t want to get dirty. And the rich who we know God loves but we look down upon them for having too much money and wonder if their ways of getting rich might be suspect or we might not like the choices they make about how they use their funds.

Are we part of the oppressors, cutting Jesus off from sight? The crowds sideline the blind man and tried to silence him as he called out to Jesus. The crowds mutter and grumble that Jesus is going to be hosted by someone tarnished by his money and by who he has gained his power from.

What is the challenge here to our way of thinking? Zacchaeus is not despicable but generous – sorry for his sins and ready to change and make restitution.

The Episcopal priest Elizabeth Kaeton notes "Jesus is once again turning our world upside down, confronting us with our assumptions about who is good and who is evil and demonstrating for us the tricks we play in our minds before we treat one another — one way or another. Like the crowd murmuring about Zacchaeus, it is easy to be blinded by our prejudice of 'those people' and find ourselves accusing the very person or people we should be emulating."

In this text Jesus looks and sees, stops and waits, meets us where we are and asks what we need. The blind man and Zacchaeus are seen and in turn they truly see Jesus for who he is. One who comes to seek out those pushed to the margins.

When I think about sightline in a theater its about who is included and given access. Yet Jesus throws this wide open to all.

My Aunt and Grandparents went to see the Broadway show the Lion King for a special anniversary present. Because they got their tickets so far in advance they got seats right down the front in the second row. They were so close they could see sweat on the actors faces and were in what we call spitting range when actors really projected or sang loudly. They saw everything up close.

When I went to see the show a few years later I was seated way up in the balcony, looking down on the action. But what my grandparents couldn’t see was the parade of animals coming down the aisles and the grand beauty of the whole stage in one glance.

We are given a glimpse of this bigger story of what is coming in Jerusalem in a few weeks. We look ahead but can we really see to the cross, to death and then to the hope that is beyond that. Are we blinded like the disciples, a little to close to the action to see the larger stage. The detailed story here is Jesus seeing, hearing and including those who the crowds and majority oppress and exclude.

Can we see what is coming? We know how the story ends but not how it will change us. In this season, what are we looking for as Jesus approaches us like he did the blind man and asks “what do you want me to do for you?” Do we fail to see who Jesus is or will his closeness transform us, opening our eyes and turning our lives around.

“Where do you find yourself in these verses? Are you crying out for Jesus to heal you? Are you hiding in the tree?  Are you in a phase in your life when you are seeking Jesus like the blind man, boldly and outspokenly, or are you seeking Jesus with a curious, but distanced gaze.”  Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey

Because no matter who we are or where we are, Jesus meets us there, and grace abounds.

Even when we can’t see – Jesus is still seeking us out. Jesus knows our name and our lostness and calls us out of whatever tree we are clinging to and takes us home to be transformed.

The blind man called out for mercy and Zacchaeus didn’t just want a glimpse of Jesus but really wanted to see who Jesus was. Not just to look at but to know. May we open our eyes and hearts to this same knowing.

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