At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”
Luke 19: 1-10
Zacchaeus was not your most likeable public official. He was a short, dishonest tax-collector who amassed great wealth at the expense of ordinary people. But he was also smart enough to know when he was in the presence of grace and how to rise above the limitations of his physical and moral stature.
As the mid-term election results roll in, this Sunday’s Gospel seems to offer a prescription for how those we elect to public office might behave.
Zacchaeus may not have won the popular vote had he run for office. But Jesus, who by all accounts had never met him until he stopped under that sycamore tree, believed that beneath that tax collector’s skin, lay his better nature. The nature that prompted Zacchaeus to run ahead and secure a spot in the tallest tree he could climb so he could see above the rabble. What he saw was nothing less than his future and his salvation. What is equally important was his clear understanding that grace calls us to rise above our customary selves. To give up the things we have come to regard as ours, especially when it has come to us at an unconscionable cost to others.
Will the people who are elected to office in this mid-term election be as far-sighted, as clear-eyed and as ready to give not half, but some fraction of their wealth to the poor and to repay four-fold those from whom they have extorted anything? Might they be willing to forsake old ways and recognize that those who have great wealth have even greater obligations? Might they be ready to recognize that taxing the top two percent, those earning far more than the average person, is justice, not charity? Perhaps the true measure of those who come to office tonight might be their inclination to seek and their success in finding that sycamore tree.
I hope that you are right about the sycamore tree from those elected into office this past week. This has felt terribly dismal and on the other hand, it is very exciting to think that politics have been this polarized in our country. I don’t recall ever caring this much, either. I took the oath in the days of Johnson’s War on Poverty to offer the best possible services to those least able to afford them when I went into social work and I still stand by that mantra now that I am in special education. It would be really something to see some hope arise from this mess of newly elected officials. Prayer might be more necessary than ever before due to “truth” being a sort of vintage concept. When did fanaticism replace intelligent sensibility? Even the media has gone crazy. I would love to see a overall sweep in many tree climbers. They say alot of chaos arrives at the turn of any century and we are not exempt.