Reflection for Sunday – October 30, 2016

Readings: Wisdom 11:22-12:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2, Luke 19 1-10.
Preacher: Christine Kvam
When the San Francisco 49ers came to Buffalo to play the Bills two weeks ago, some fans in the parking lot took a knee during the national anthem in a show of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. There were also people there who bought t-shirts with Kaepernick’s image in the cross-hairs of a rifle scope.

Trump supporters call Hillary Clinton a crook. Clinton supporters call Donald Trump a liar. Even weeks ago, before the debates, there was virtually no way a person who favored one candidate over the other was going to change her or his mind.

It’s easy to shake our heads and ask, “Why is it always ‘us’ versus ‘them’?”

While the polarization of society is deeply saddening, it’s not new. Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus clearly states that the crowds in Jericho grumbled when Jesus chose to stay at the house of “a sinner.” They thought of themselves as righteous and looked down upon Zacchaeus as a greedy traitor who worked for the oppressors and exploited his own people to benefit himself.

The good news (the Gospel) is that Jesus “has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

In the context of Luke’s story about Zacchaeus, we obviously think of Zacchaeus himself as the one who was lost. But if we take a closer look, aren’t the grumbling crowds who see Zacchaeus as unworthy of Jesus’ attention also lost? And if we dare to draw parallels to our situation today, we see that we’re not all that different from those crowds. We too draw hard and fast lines between who’s good and who’s bad. We share their judgmental tendency and fail to follow God’s example of “loving all things that are and loathing nothing that God has made” (Wisdom 11:24). In short, like the grumblers in Jericho, we lack the divine perspective that recognizes all people as sisters and brothers.

When we accuse others of not seeing or respecting the truth about what’s going on in our country, aren’t we showing our own blindness? In our criticism of those who support the other candidate, aren’t we being just as narrow-minded as we accuse them of being? In other words, we too are clearly lost.

So we can rejoice that Jesus has come to seek and save us—and that our salvation is ultimately in the hands of a merciful and generous God. But this does not mean that we can be content with being lost. Rather, God’s graciousness should encourage us to emulate that abundant compassion and acceptance.

Easier said than done, right? But this week’s Gospel gives us a way to begin—personal encounter.

The passage begins by saying that Jesus was intending to pass through Jericho, but when he saw Zacchaeus in the tree, he altered his itinerary to stay with an individual very different from himself.

For many of us (particularly control freaks and introverts like me) this is an unappealing situation. First there’s the challenge of giving up an established plan because of an unexpected occurrence. And, on top of that, the new plan is to have a dinner party with a stranger whose values don’t align with our own. Yet that seems to be Jesus’ message—we should be willing to let go of our plans to spend meaningful time with someone who is more of a “them” than an “us.”

If we are able to get over our personal hurdles and actually engage in this type of encounter, the result can be powerful, both in expanding our own perspective and in modeling a rejection of society’s polarization. Remember the picture that went viral a few weeks ago of Michelle Obama giving George W. Bush a hug at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture? It was startling in the way it showed two prominent people of opposite ideologies sharing a seemingly genuine and joyful moment of encounter. That photo is a perfect symbol of moving beyond established divisions, and as such, it gave many of us a moment of hope for our nation.

So, difficult though it may be (especially as the election nears), we keep that image in our minds and we carry the words of the book of Wisdom with us as we strive to recognize “God’s imperishable spirit in all” (Wisdom 12:1). We acknowledge that we are all lost, but we also realize that if we open ourselves to truly encountering each other, together we can start to build bridges of unity and hope.

Christine Nowak Kvam
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