TWO SMALL MEN
The story of Zacchaeus is not about one small man, it was about two. Zacchaeus and Jesus. Zacchaeus was physically small, he needed to climb a tree to see over the crowds to Jesus.
Lost in the crowd
Jesus might well have been physically small as well, we don’t know, but we do know that he was ego-small, and so very easily lost in a crowd. He didn’t roam the countryside on a horse, he didn’t speak from a dias or platform, he was one of the crowd one with the crowd, one whose philosophy of life commended sitting at the bottom of the table, washing other people’s feet, attending to the lowly and sinful, putting the last first and the first last.
Too ashamed to wear a dog collar?
I shared a car to Pine Lodge cemetery with Monsignor Peter Jeffrey recently. Among the things we talked of was clerical gear, and clerical titles. Especially the wearing of dog collars.
You hardly ever see a Roman Catholic priest these days so garbed. A possible explanation of this, is that they are too ashamed to dog collar themselves and declare their vocation publicly, what with paedophilia and rising anti religious sentiment in western societies.
I, however, suggested another possible reason namely, that because uniforms tend to put up a barrier between priest and people, clergy, like Jesus, are possibly far better and more usefully authentic lost in the crowd, one of the crowd, one with the crowd.
We must never be ashamed of who we are, and so there are occasions when the uniform is right, useful and proper, but any priest who is happy and secure with who he is, doesn’t feel a need or an urge always and everywhere to declare his vocation and difference with uniforms, titles, dog collars, labels or whatever.
D’haut en bas
I was told only a couple of weeks ago, of a recent encounter between a retired colleague and very high church Anglican priest in the hospital of a town not that far from here. The priest was togged up not only in a dog collar, but also swanned the corridors of the hospital swirling the skirts of an immaculate soutane as well. The colleague cheerfully and amiably greeted the priest by his Christian name, for he was acquainted with him, but he was haughtily put down for so doing, “Father, to you.......”
No one, secure with who he is, surely, would be so rude and stupid as that?
There is a well known French phrase used for such high and mighty condescension: “d’haut en bas” : from high to low, from top to bottom, from up there to down here. The opposite then of Jesus with Zacchaeus, who looking up at Zacchaeus, brought him down to his level, to our level, to the level where God is best himself in time space, one of the crowd, one with the crowd, one with a philosophy of life that commends sitting at the bottom of the table, washing other people’s feet, attending to the lowly and sinful, putting the last first and the first last. God incarnate, Immanuel, God with us.
Transformed by notice
A couple of weekends ago just as I was on the verge of going out for an important appointment, and running a little late, two miserable beggars knocked on my door. When, with little grace, I refused them cash they asked for a food parcel and so, with even less grace, I grumpily led them off, stony faced and hard hearted to open the narthex, open the office and its food cupboard.
The two beggars marched sullenly behind me only too aware of my graceless, condescension. After I had given them their parcel, I asked their name, and when told it said, in spite of my self, “that’s an unusual and interesting name, (which it was) where does it come from....?”
They were instantly transformed. I had noticed them. More than that, I had noticed them positively, had found something about them interesting to me. They smiled, asked me about church services, baptisms and commented on the loveliness of our church building.
It was something like that, I dare to venture, that happened between Jesus and Zacchaeus. He, unlike my two beggars, was rich rather than poor, but like them he was marginalised, an outsider, unacceptable, despised, not only a cheat but a collaborator with the Romans.
Jesus, however, didn’t order or even advise him to change his ways. He simply noticed him. Recognised him as a person, a fellow human being, asked to stay with him, and so enabled him to change, to blossom, to be who he had it in him to be.
The community and communion we experience in our parish church and upon which the whole faith enterprise is founded, has little if anything to do with rules to lift us up to good behaviour and change our ways, or with commandments to raise us up to respectable conduct.
It is all to do with being noticed, loved, forgiven, and so brought down from the rotten branch of egotism, to the level where God is best himself in time space, one of the crowd, one with the crowd, one with a philosophy of life that commends sitting at the bottom of the table, washing other people’s feet, attending to the lowly and sinful, putting the last first and the first last. God incarnate, Immanuel, God with us. (Andrew Neaum 5 November, 2007)
“Andrew” he says to the likes of me, (not “Father Andrew”), “Andrew, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today....to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
And warmed and noticed and appreciated in the loving, forgiving, community
around the table in my house, St Augustine’s, one of the crowd, one with the crowd, one with the Lord, I, and my fellow believers, are not commanded to blossom into loving lovableness, we are enabled to.