Let’s have fun as we end lectionary Year C. Can we do that? Is it possible to have fun with scripture? Some would say not, it’s true. The argument would be to have fun is to diminish the seriousness of the text, of the gospel. To have fun is to trivialize what shouldn’t be trivialized.
But let’s be clear, we’re not making fun; we’re having fun. There is a difference. We are looking at the humor in these encounters that Jesus has with a variety of folk in the gospel of Luke. Semantics? No, there is something more going on here, and we need to pay attention. We are entering the story, placing ourselves in dialogue with Jesus. What a thrill it is to be face to face with Jesus. What a joy to be in his presence, hearing his word, receiving his instruction.
Yet, what we discover is that like those in these stories, we are often off track, often misunderstanding, often too much letting our own desires get in the way of hearing the word he has for us. It is . . . funny. Let’s admit it, our humanness is funny. In the end, we are laughing at ourselves. We are embracing with humility and with joy the overwhelming grace of God that continues to surprise us with hospitality and opportunity.
Every encounter with Jesus brings transformation. At the very least, we see ourselves in a new light, in all our humanness. And we can either weep or laugh. When we weep, we might pull into ourselves and run away from the source of pain and shame. But if we can laugh, then we might be able to stay and find healing and a new way of being alive in the world.
Through these encounters, these face-to-face moments that individuals and groups had with Jesus here in the gospel of Luke, we can find a way to new life and new hope if we’re willing to be honest with ourselves and with him. We too here at the end of our liturgical year want to be face to face with Jesus.
What would it be like to encounter Jesus face to face? That’s the question this series sets out to help us answer. We can’t know, of course, but we can get a glimpse of what happened to those who did meet Jesus in the Gospel texts we examine here. It requires a holy imagination to put ourselves in the place of these characters. And we submit, it requires a sense of humor to see the beauty of these encounters and to hear how Jesus can take a simple question and turn it upside down or open it up to reveal something more significant than we realized.
The Zacchaeus story reads more like a parable than real life. Yet, that is the power of being face to face with Jesus. If, indeed, every encounter with Jesus brings transformation, then we can sit back and be amazed at how it unfolds in this story. Are there any similar stories in your community? Is there one who can bear witness to the power of acceptance and recognition to bring about a new life and new way of living in the world? Is there one who could tell a story about how he or she met Jesus, maybe in the hospitality of your congregation or the outreach of a neighbor, and decided to turn his or her life around? Is there one who could testify to that power and presence? It would be a moving experience to hear – even if it was familiar. Tell it again, if necessary. Make it an interview instead of a presentation. Ask about the why, the deeper inner responses; ask about how difficult or easy it was to maintain the change. Let the whole congregation listen in as your own Zacchaeus comes down from the tree to start a new life with Jesus.
Or maybe act out the story; invite the children or youth to lift the encounter from the page to the chancel. They’re in the mood for costumes and for tricks and treats, so let them loose in worship as they act out the tale of a little, bad guy who meets Jesus. Watch as the faces change, as the crowd is amazed, and maybe a little resentful. How would we react if our favorite “bad guy” in the neighborhood becomes a good guy, the favored of Christ? Watch it happen. And by all means, sing the song. You know the song, about the “wee little man” and the sycamore tree. Let the children take you through the motions and then all shout together, “ZACCHAEUS, YOU COME DOWN!” It is a witness to the power of hospitality, sharing a meal, abiding together. Make it fun, childish, and childlike. Because then it becomes possible again. In our grown-up cynicism, we don’t believe in the power of an encounter with Christ as we used to. Maybe here we can recapture our childlike faith enough to believe that redemption is really possible. We might believe it enough to go out on a limb ourselves.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.