Sermon for Choral Evensong & Benediction Sunday 6 July 2014
Sermon preached by Prebendary Alan Moses
Readings: 2 Samuel 2:1-11:3.1; Luke 18:31-19:10
Some friends from Australia were in London over the weekend of the Queen’s Birthday Parade. They were in tourist mode, so went to the Mall to see the procession of carriages and cavalry, bands and guards, return to Buckingham Palace. Of course, the crowds were so great that they could not see very much at all; especially as one of them is shorter than me. They would have had a far better view if they had watched it on television.
Our New Testament reading has two characters who want to see Jesus, but.cannot.
The blind man could not see him, even if the crowd was not in the way. But he has heard of Jesus and senses that he has a once in a lifetime chance of receiving sight from him. But he has to make a fuss to attract the attention of Jesus – much to the annoyance of people in the crowd, perhaps even of the disciples – who show signs of developing the worst traits of officious courtiers – being grander than the person they serve – thinking that they speak for him.
Then there is Zacchaeus. He too wants to see Jesus and he will go to great lengths to achieve that goal. A small man, he can’t see past the crowd. So he runs ahead – running, let alone climbing a tree, was something no one of importance could do without loss of dignity.
In fact, he faced more difficulties than this: the risk of being insulted, attacked, beaten up, even killed by those in the crowd who would regard him as a collaborator with the imperial power; an exploiter of his people, a traitor to the nation.
Luke tells of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus as the last of a series of encounters with outcasts before his entry into Jerusalem. As we heard in today’s gospel at the Eucharist, (Matthew 11:19) Jesus had been criticised as a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.” In Luke, tax collectors are the prototypical outcasts – collaborators and oppressors of their own people – and yet Jesus befriends them.
In both men we see an eagerness, a determination, even a desperation, to see, and to see Jesus. And we see eagerness and seeing bringing transformation – in the gift of physical sight to the blind beggar; in the gift of a changed life to the tax collector. The blind man receives more than sight: “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God.” One condemned to sit by the roadside, going nowhere, now follows Jesus. One who could only beg, now praises God.
The healing of the blind man declares God’s mercy on those who have been damaged or incapacitated by life and by human society. It illustrates the power of pleas for God’s mercy. Both the recovery of sight and the people’s response of praise to God give us a glimpse of the nature of God’s kingdom.
Jesus says to Zacchaeus: “hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”
Luke uses that word “today” emphatically, over and over again to show God at work in Jesus, in the here and now:
- The angels announce: “today is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”
- In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
- When Jesus heals the paralytic, the onlookers glorify God: “We have seen strange things today.”
- Jesus says to the penitent thief, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.
- The Good News is that God is doing great things “today.”
The story of Zacchaeus is an antidote to those who say, “We can’t do anything about it.” “People never change.” “Nothing new ever happens to me.”
“Today” is the time to open our eyes and see what God is doing all around us. When someone is offered forgiveness, or hears a word of affirmation, or in the face of experience clings to the hope that things can be different, or resolves to live by a new set of values, then that enslaving prejudice which is a barrier to the kingdom is broken down. We know who people are and expect nothing better of them. They won’t change, they can’t change.
So these stories challenge us.
First of all: How determined or desperate are we to see Jesus? What priority do we place on knowing Jesus, how much effort are we willing to make, how much of a fool of ourselves, reaching out to him in prayer; that prayer, that meditation on the gospels which teaches us to recognise the presence of Christ in all things, not just in church?
Secondly: what change, what transformation does our relationship with Jesus work in our lives?
If we have given up on ourselves, can we recognise the possibility of change in our own lives because of our relationship with Jesus? Can we see that he is something more than a supplier of comfort? Are we willing to be changed by our seeing of Jesus?
That relationship, if it is real, should allow us – and others – to recognise that there is something different about us. Have we a changed attitude towards ourselves and what is ours: no longer seeing ourselves as owners, independent, autonomous, responsible to and for no one other than ourselves: dependent now on God and others, responsible to them and even for them? Do we see in the light of Jesus that our value is not measured by our possessions but by what we do with things which are gifts of God to be used for the benefit of all?
Does seeing Jesus help free us from cynicism about the inability of others to change, and despair of our own? The two are often linked: we often cope with the knowledge of our own failure by pointing to those of others.
Have we a changed attitude towards other people and the possibility that they might be changed? Do we pray that for them and for ourselves?
And when we examine our lives in the light of the gospel, can we see in ourselves something of that transformation we see in Zacchaeus? Can we say that, like the blind beggar given his sight, we follow Jesus? Do we know and feel that salvation has come to our house today?
And if the answer to these questions is “No,” do we despair, or do we shout louder or run ahead and climb the tree so that we can see Jesus?