What a racket!
All around the room the kids were jumping, laughing, dancing and shrieking. There is no noise like 6 & 7 year olds having a great time, no party so uncomplicated and riotous. They’d come to have a good time, and they were having it!
All except for The Lad. Dropped off by his mother, he sat at the edge of the room with a longing look in his eyes, but his pouting lip and the set of his chin said, “I’m not joining in.” Grown-ups and children invited, cajoled, taunted, chivvied, pleaded and bargained by turns — he would have none of it. Games came and went, he was unmoved. At the tea-table he picked without enthusiasm. Why had he come? But when his mother returned to collect him (“Have you had a nice time?”) his eyes shone. “Great.”
When Jesus entered the town of Jericho, the good burghers of the city must have been positively relishing the hard time he was going to give to Zacchaeus should he encounter him. Everyone knew that Jesus was not one to mince his words. Zacchaeus, the fithy-rich chief tax collector (thieving scum!!) had better stay out of his way.
But Zak is strangely drawn to this teacher from out of town and longs to no what he’s all about. Kept away by the crowd, unable to see Jesus because of them, he takes the undignified step of climbing a tree to get a glimpse. No one is more surprised than him when Jesus stops. “Put the kettle on, I’m parched!”
The crowd are outraged, of course. Jesus is obviously a very poor judge of character. He ought not to have anything to do with a villain like this one. We would probably act the same way should Jesus invite himself to the home of those we think “beyond the pale”. Characters like this, though, are exactly the sort of company that Jesus likes to keep. Excluded, reviled, rejected and abused — all are welcomed with warmth and grace. Thieves, terrorists, tarts, adulterers, lepers and prigs find a place. Is it too much to suppose that there might be room in that embrace for socialists — and for Republicans?
Of course, the encounter with Jesus produces repentance and change. That, tempting as it is, is not what this story is about. At its heart, this is a story of how the grace and mercy of God reaches joyfully and exhuberantly across barriers of respectability and taste and says “I’m coming to your house for tea!”
Is mercy and grace,
The lepers are cleansed
The sinners find place,
The outcast are welcomed
God’s banquet to share,
And hope is awakened
In place of despair.