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Coming Home

It can be very frustrating when you are blocked from seeing; those of us who are short will more than likely know this well. So I do have some sympathy with Zacchaeus, who wanted to see Jesus, but couldn’t because the crowd was in the way (see Luke 19:1-10). I’ve never gone as far as he did, though, in climbing a tree to solve the problem. Zacchaeus was, we are told, a chief tax collector. He may well have had a certain amount of dignity among his own people, which he flung aside; he must have risked being laughed at, shamed, in climbing that tree, especially as he was on the outskirts of society as a tax collector anyway. I can imagine the crowd noticing Zacchaeus up that tree, and mocking him. For Zacchaeus, seeing Jesus was more important than all that.


I wonder how much shame Zacchaeus carried about his profession? I’m kind of thinking he may have had very little. He was ready to repent, to change, to apologize, as Jesus saw, and as is clear from what follows. But shame? Shame tends to drive you away from people, not drive you towards climbing a tree simply in order to see. Climbing that tree, being prepared to risk whatever came, was a life-changing moment for Zacchaeus. Interestingly, there is no suggestion that he changed his occupation, although he may have pursued it more honestly. In the passage there is no actual apology for the past, but he does offer restitution. He must have vastly reduced his income, and his possessions, in order to fulfil his commitment of giving half he owned to the poor, plus paying back four-fold to those he had defrauded. Sorrow, repentance, conviction of wrongdoing: these can lead to a true repentance and a change of life. Shame can get in the way; it is something to work through, before you can honestly see what you may have done wrong (and right). It draws you in on yourself, to hide from others, from yourself.


Shame can be like an infected wound: the wound heals, but the infection remains underneath, and a wound in another place will then flare up with the same infection. Other people can shame us, but if we take it on board ourselves, our own shame can mis-guide us as to our own behaviour, as well as to how others see us. It can focus us on ourselves, and can be mixed up with condemnation. Shame can be used to try to control our behaviour. If shame is an ongoing problem for us, it would be wise to seek professional advice. Does shame prevent any repentance? Of course not; we can always come before God, and ask for forgiveness. We may even ask forgiveness for our shame, or for what we are shamed by, although these things may or may not be our fault. Our journey in following Jesus is a long one, and the issue of shame is one that many may have to deal with along the way. The point of this blog is not to shame you for feeling shame! But shame may block us from seeing clearly what is happening, both for ourselves and for others, just as Zacchaeus was blocked from seeing Jesus. So, how do we climb a tree in order to see Jesus, if our view is blocked? Acknowledging it may be the first step, while talking it over and/or getting professional help might be a second. Time away from our situation, in order to find a more distant view, could be a helpful ‘tree’ to climb. Writing or drawing could also help. But individual shame is always unique, and some may take more ‘trees’ than others; it may, for some of us, be something we have to learn to live with.


The blind man seems to have had no shame at all (see Luke 18: 35-43). He knew Jesus could heal him, and was going to continue to shout out, no matter how many people told him to shut up.  He, too, could not see Jesus; his view was not obscured by the crowd, for he was blind, but, still, the crowd were between him and Jesus. The crowd tried to shame him into silence, but he would have none of it, crying out all the louder for Jesus to have mercy on him. He receives his sight, and followed Jesus along the road, glorifying God. Another life-changing moment.


I wonder, also, how much shame the rich young ruler might have felt? (see Luke 18:18-30). He went away sad because he was very rich. Did he feel shamed that he couldn’t make that final action Jesus asked? Or did he feel ashamed for going in the first place? Or did he, in time, put it down to youthful enthusiasm, as he became more and more subsumed by his riches? For possessions are another way in which our sight can become blocked. Do we own our possessions or do our possessions own us? I feel that the possessions of the rich young ruler owned him; he wasn’t able to give them up, or the lifestyle they brought. But Zacchaeus owned his possessions: on Jesus reaching out to him, he stood up and let much of them go. Both the rich young ruler and Zacchaeus were lost; one came to salvation, and it is the one who sought to see Jesus. 

Seeing Jesus can be at the heart of our faith, for it is Jesus we follow, and we can only follow if we can see. Whether we are like the rich young ruler, owned by things that we cannot give up; or like Zacchaeus, more than aware of our wrongdoing but desperate to see Jesus anyway; or like the blind man, at rock bottom, and shouting out for help: we can all come to Jesus. While it may not lead to as obviously a life-changing moment as for Zacchaeus and the blind man, and while we may continue to feel blind and not seeing, we can still rest assured that Jesus will hold us, and will not let us go. We can believe, even if it seems unlikely, that Jesus can see us, even if we cannot see him. We can know that, wherever we are, whether seeking to know Jesus more, or hiding from him in our shame, that Jesus will be looking for us to say: ‘come, X, for I am coming to your house for tea’.

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