Jesus does not come into our houses in order to make us feel good. I know that’s a challenging statement to those of us who have had Him in our hearts for long enough to feel comfortable with having Him there, but the fact of the matter is having Jesus come into your life is not a moment that can pass without comment, without action.
It is meant to upset your applecart.
Which is weird I suppose since mostly when I think of Jesus entering a room to be with the people inside it is when their applecarts are upset already. We are better equipped for those moments, we feel the presence of the Lord and it brings us to a calm place, the peace that passes all understanding taking on new meaning as tension is allowed to run out of us at the naming of the promise, at the coming of the one who died and then rose again.
Weird that in the middle of a fight with a spouse, or at the brink of divorce or at the moment when the tires lose their grip on the pavement or when the word cancer is used in a doctor’s office or when the last breath slowly leaves the body of a loved one; weird that calm should ever be found in such circumstances, but there it is, wherever He is.
Fear lives in the middle distance, you see. Fear and anxiety and worry are all just out of our reach, as if the lights were out and we couldn’t find the switch and all we can perceive of the world around us is some kind of vaguely threatening whispering, the fears that would rip the spine clean out of us, making us collapse are all the more threatening because they are shadowy, ill seen and hardly heard.
Almost all of us have some understanding of that fact. Just about everyone has had the interview, the call into the boss’s office, the significant other who mysteriously says, “we have to talk.” There is almost nothing as terrifying as the threat that remains unknown, the threat that remains unseen because it could be anything. Sitting and waiting for the other shoe to drop is the worst, most anxious, most vulnerable most of us will ever feel.
That misery is palpable in the soul-silence of the sick room. The noise of the surroundings makes no impression on the absolute stillness of the heart that pervades the room and seeps into those whoa re present. The beeps and hisses do not replace the familiar sounds of the soon to be departed, their laugh or their voice. The silence is that of the unknown, what will happen and when? Will this happen to us all? Are any of us saved? Are any of us safe?
A thousand times a thousand questions beset us in our times of greatest worry and fear and the silence in our hearts is the darkness where fear breeds, the silence is its food and it will grow until we break down or the fear is somehow dispelled.
I have seen the icy grip of this fear break like a crystal wine glass, seen it melt away like a snowfall out of season burned off by the warming rays of the sun and all that happened was that the presence of Christ entered the room.
It is at times like that, when people hear the word of God and feel the promises that have been made true in Christ, the one who was raised that we may see a glimpse of what lies beyond that a clear light shines into their darkness and they are warmed by the word and by the knowledge that He is near. How can it be that the coming of Christ into your house can be upsetting? How can it be that Jesus is not meant to bring us only peace when the peace He does bring passes all understanding?
Because Jesus is not a tic tac, always the same flavor, a predictable little nugget of sweetness each and every time you pop Him into your life, always telling you it’ll be alright, always letting you off the hook with His magnificent grace and forgiveness.
That would imply that you are always going to get your own way; that Jesus comes only to feed your sweet tooth, metaphorically speaking.
Some days instead of a tic tac you’d be better off with a nice bowl of soup, or even better: a swift kick in the pants. Sure, when you are in the pit of despair Jesus comes in like a bolt of light dispelling the darkness and bringing the promise of the gospel as a warm and comforting light but what happens when you are on top of the world, you’ve got the tiger by the tail and are planning your own monument for your final resting place?
What do you need with a tic tac then? Fresh breath to impress the crowds?
Some days you are the woman at the well, the family gathered at the bedside or in the hospital room. Some days you are Zacchaeus, a rich man, a collector of the Emperor’s taxes, a successful and upstanding member of the community riding high, not a care in the world.
What does Jesus bring into your life? How does the coming of Jesus into your house change what you see and who you are and how you will live?
Zacchaeus is not asked to do anything. Jesus says not a mumbling word and Zacchaeus offers up half of his possessions, offers to repay any inequities in his books at a four to one rate, making reparations for past crimes.
He has heard of this Jesus, so much so that he climbed a tree in order to see him. Not a very dignified place to find the chief tax collector of the region, not a fitting place for a man of his stature.
But from the voices all around him he has heard of this Jesus. He climbs the tree, according to Luke “to see who Jesus was,” to find out if this was the one, to find out of this was the person who could set him free.
Not from his job, nothing shameful in general about his job, taxes have been there ever since Samuel put Saul upon the throne of Israel and Saul, as the Lord had warned them, began doing all kind of king-y stuff, raising armies by conscripting sons, levying taxes, stealing wives and daughters.
His job is not the problem. It is his heart. He doesn’t need a tic tac, he needs a savior. The grace of God made perfect and visible to us in Jesus Christ is not just a warm blanket on a cold morning. Jesus is the power of the truth and the healing that comes from forgiveness.
When the truth steps into Zacchaeus’ house, there is not program of repentance, Zacchaeus repented by climbing th4e tree, shucking off his dignity in order to seek out the one who could heal him; Zacchaeus is not presented with a fine, or a program of repayment, money is not the problem here.
The truth, burning so brightly, lays bare Zacchaeus and his heart. Burning through the trappings and the glittering signs of earthly success the truth seeks out the part that is broken, the part that is in the heart of all of us. The truth is not fooled; the truth is not led astray or distracted by our finery, by our success. The truth finds the heart of us all, Zacchaeus and you and me all alike.
Inside Zacchaeus there is darkness, a place of fear, a place of hurt. He knows for a fact that there have been people he has cheated, if not, how could he confess and offer to pay them back times four? He knows full well and despite the bright smile on his face, he walks around the town with that knowledge within him, a pain inside of him, an ache he cannot soothe with more wealth, with more glitter, no matter the respect of the crowds, no matter the standing in the community.
I assume that Zacchaeus is not a single-sin kind of a sinner either. There must be other things that bring him shame and guilt before his God. Nothing is kept in the darkness when Jesus enters not just the house of Zacchaeus, but the household, the family of Zacchaeus; all is brought into the light.
No tic tac here; this is a kick in the pants.
And that too is grace. That too is the love of God shining even more magnificently than in the sick room or at the side of the well or with the ten lepers who were healed because this is the power not just to lift up those who are knocked down, not just to heal, but to find the disease not yet known, to diagnose the hidden sickness and then cast it down, to heal the hurt we hide, the hurt we keep hidden, to set us free.
That is why Zacchaeus climbed into the tree. That is why we feel our burdens lighten when we hold open our empty hands and receive the blessing of the Lord’s body and His precious blood. We know as he knew that the grace of God is not just for the corrupt and obvious sinners, not just for the things we would confess and have lifted from our shoulders; it does not come only where beckoned but breaks down the illusion of control over our relationship with God that we cling to and lays us bare and then heals us of our every wound, even the ones we are too ashamed to admit, too shy to confess.
Jesus does not come into our houses in order to make us feel good. He comes into our lives to heal us, to make us whole, to fit us for heaven, as the song says.
Those who have died in Him live on in Him, fitted for heaven by his entering their lives, upsetting their applecarts and then healing them. Today, across town and in other communities, it is Dia de los Muertos, even here it is meant to be All Saints Day thought I have, in my usual manner, decided that the scriptures assigned for that day were unsatisfying.
They did not speak of salvation, or of hope or of transformation. Heck they didn’t even speak of the saints much. The scriptures for the twenty fourth Sunday after Pentecost speak of God reaching into our lives and our hearts and setting us free.
When we look back on those we have lost, I’ve never been able to restrict myself to just one year but go all the way back to Edith Ricker, what better thought to have than that Jesus brought them through the gates Himself; that by healing them He set them upon the path that has only one destination, eternal blessedness with God, and that we can trust the promise that they are beyond pain, beyond sorrow.
What better thought than they have not left us, they have simply gone home before us and one day we will rejoin them though in a way we cannot yet understand?
On this Dia de los Muertos, on this All Saints Day, let us remember Zacchaeus and his tree, climbing up to see who Jesus was, this one of whom so many spoke, straining to find peace and remember that Jesus did not just come to heal the things Zacchaeus though were important, He came to heal all of him, and all of us, coming to us where we are in truth and letting the truth heal our every ill.
If it is true for us, it was true for them and it will be true for the generations to come if we, like the crowds that lined the streets, that whispered in darkened rooms and on street corners, speak the name of Christ into the world, calling upon His name and calling out His name because if people do not hear it, if they do not hear that there is freedom from the ache within then they will continue to seek after false idols, rotting slowly from the inside because of the pain they cannot admit they feel; people we love, people we might love if we ever met them.
What would it be like if we celebrated All Saints Day by working to lead all people to come to the cross and become the saints of God, All saints, none lost? It’s the mission of God, after all.