From Another Vantage Point
There is a story told about God, who was walking the streets, looking for a place for God’s son to stay. The storyteller of this story recounts, “God knocked on my door.” The storyteller continues, sayin “I thought, ‘Well, I suppose I could let the son rent the little spare bedroom.’ God read my thoughts. ‘I was looking to buy,’ God said. ‘Oh, I don’t think I really want to sell,’ I replied. ‘I need the place for myself, you see. But you could use the back room. The rent’s quite low. Why don’t you come in and have a look?’ So God came in, and God looked around. ‘I like it,’ God said. ‘I’ll take it on your own terms.’ Once the son was settled in, I began to wonder whether I’d been a bit mean. There they were, cooped up in that little spare bedroom. God must have been having similar thoughts, because God was there again at my door. ‘Would you have any more space now, do you think?’ God asked gently. ‘Well, I’ve been thinking, and I could offer your son an extra room to rent now.’ ‘Thank you,’ said God. ‘I’ll take the extra room. Maybe you’ll decide to give my son more room later on. Meanwhile, I like what I see.’ Time went on. I was still feeling a bit uneasy about this transaction. ‘I’d like to give you some more room,’ I kept telling God, ‘but you see, it’s a bit difficult. I need some space for me.’ ‘I understand,’ God kept saying. ‘I’ll wait. I like what I see.’ Eventually, I decided to offer God the whole of the top floor. God accepted gratefully, on behalf of God’s son. ‘Well, I can spare it really,’ I told God. ‘I’d really like to let you have the whole house, but I’m not sure…’ ‘I understand,’ said God. ‘I’ll wait. I like what I see.’
A bit more time went by, and there was God again at my door. ‘I just want you to know’, God said, ‘that I’m still very interested in buying your house. I wouldn’t put you out. We’d work it out together. Your house would be mine and my son would live here.’ ‘Actually,’ God added, ‘you’d have more space than ever before.’ ‘I really can’t see how that could be true,’ I replied, hesitating on the doorstep. ‘I know,’ said God. ‘And to be honest, I can’t really explain it. It’s something you have to discover for yourself. It only happens if you let my son have the whole house.’ ‘A bit risky,’ I said. ‘Yes, but try me,’ encouraged God. ‘I’m not sure. I’ll let you know.’ ‘I’ll wait,’ said God. ‘I like what I see.’[i]
“I’ll wait,” says God, “I like what I see.”
Today’s Scripture is about sight, about truly seeing others, ourselves and God. We often find ourselves like Zacchaeus in today’s Scripture with our view blocked, or we find ourselves like the storyteller in our first story, reluctant to be seen ourselves.
These stories invite us to ponder: What creates walls in our lives? What blocks our vision and keeps us from seeing clearly?
For Zacchaeus, initially, it is his height. A short man, Zacchaeus discovers that somehow all those who are taller had decided to stand directly in front of him. After fruitlessly maneuvering to see Jesus, Zacchaeus decides to scoot up a nearby Sycamore tree for a better view.
Securing himself on a sturdy branch, Zacchaeus looks out at the wide vista and sees Jesus.
I wonder if perhaps Zacchaeus is nervous about seeing Jesus. After all, he is a tax collector, he does not fit into societal expectations of size and beauty and, here he is, the only one to climb a tree. What would Jesus think of him?
Jesus walks by and, seeing Zacchaeus, says: “I like what I see. Come on down. I’m going to your house today.”
The answer fills Zacchaeus with surprise and delight and he slides down the tree. As Jesus and Zacchaeus begin to walk together to Zacchaeus’ house, the crowd grumbles, saying, “Jesus has gone to a sinner’s house as a guest.”
Jesus sees Zacchaeus but, somehow, the crowd does not. All they see is that Zacchaeus is a tax collector and they assume they know what “those people” are like. After all, tax collectors gathered taxes for the Roman Empire and then, to make their own living, extorted extra from the people. The people in the area tended to carry resentment in their hearts toward the tax collectors because it was hard enough to get by as it was without one of their kindred taking extra money from them.
The crowd had built up walls between themselves and the tax collectors, stone by stone, until they no longer saw them as human beings, only “those people”.
Then Jesus comes by and says to Zacchaeus the tax collector, “I like what I see. I’m going to your house.” The crowd is perplexed. In response, Zacchaeus stands his ground and says, “I give half my belongings to poor people. If I defraud anyone in the least, I pay them back fourfold.”
Some Biblical translations translate that sentence in the future but the actual Greek is in the present tense. In other words, Zacchaeus responds by saying, “Look, I know you might have written me off but I give generously to the poor and pay back anyone I might have ripped off.”
In that moment, the stereotypes that the crowd has come tumbling down and they see Zacchaeus clearly, perhaps for the first time. What they see now is not the assumptions they had about Zacchaeus, but Zacchaeus himself. Walls come down, vistas expand, layers peel off to reveal the eternal truth … that with in each of us that is the Imago Dei or the image of God. Even in those whom we have written off.
After this encounter, Zacchaeus and Jesus continue on their way. Perhaps as they walk, Zacchaeus suddenly realizes how woefully unprepared he is for Jesus’ visit. Zacchaeus remembers the people that he has not yet paid back, the kitchen corners covered with grime and the counters piled high with dirty dishes. Zacchaeus hesitates. Maybe this is not such a good idea to have Jesus over … after all, Zacchaeus wonders, what will Jesus think?
Yet, Zacchaeus wants so badly to talk to Jesus, to get to know Jesus, to find a path to life and healing, and so he decides to risk it and boldly allows Jesus to come in. Jesus looks around and says, “I like what I see. Today salvation has come to this house. For the Promised One has come to search out and save what was lost.”
Zacchaeus is startled, before it was the crowd that blocked his views but now it was his own assumptions and limited view. Even though Zacchaeus has this beautiful, roomy house, all he can see are the failures, the mistakes, the things that screamed out his shortcomings. Yet, Jesus sees to Zacchaeus’ heart, sees his intentions and his care, his heartbreak and his desires. Jesus sees to Zacchaeus’ heart and sees that Zachaeus is good.
It is striking because for so long Zacchaeus had tried to keep people out, afraid of what they would say if they truly knew him, if they saw where he lived, opened the closets and saw the grimy kitchen corners. Yet the thing is, sometimes in focusing on those realities, we miss the bigger picture, the picture that you see when you climb to the top of the sycamore tree and see God face to face.
As the walls come crumbling down, the walls between us and others, us and God, us and ourselves, we discover the truth of our belovedness, the truth that God sees to our heart and declares our sacred worth even when we, like the crowd, are not quite ready to see it, even when we still have assumptions blocking our view, God stands there patiently with love, saying to us: I’ll wait. I like what I see.
In that moment, perhaps for the first time, Zacchaeus sees himself clearly. Not in the perjorative view of his neighbors, not in his own mistake-focused view, but in God’s view as Zacchaeus’ Creator as the one who has counted the very hairs on his head.
In that moment, Zacchaeus sees God clearly, not as one to be afraid of but as one who is like a mother hen gathering all under her wings, like a prodigal father who runs to meet his son before he even makes it down the path, like a shepherd who would go to any ends to find their sheep again, because God sees our invaluable worth and will go to any length to invite us into relationship, coming even to earth in the form of Jesus that we might know love first hand. Loving us even from the cross as violence and fear try to silence Jesus. Loving us, as the Resurrected One on the third day, reminding us that no amount of messiness or walls or assumptions or self-doubt can ever separate us from the unending, unfettered love of God.
As we scurry up the tree for a better view, Jesus says: Come on down, for I am going to your house today.
Even though we are not yet ready. Even though our kitchen corners still have grime. Even though we don’t yet have our life together.
There is Jesus, waiting patiently, saying to us: Let’s journey together, for I like what I see.
Thanks be to God.
[i] This story comes from One Hundred Wisdom Stories from around the World by Margaret Silf