Dad passed away late Thursday night. While he’s been winding down for a long time, the end came rather quickly. We are taking care of all the details that come with the end on one’s life and it will be a few weeks before I’m back posting anything.
About a month or so ago, I heard someone mention the biblical character Zacchaeus and it got me thinking. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho during the time of Christ. We’re told in scripture he was very short. Jesus was in town. He would have been the first century’s version of a celebrity - a social influencer. Everyone was talking about him and everyone wanted to see him and hang out with him. Zac was no different. Because he was a tax collector, the general population despised him. He would be viewed as a sell out to his people, a social pariah. I sometimes wonder if he went up the tree not just for a better view, but a safer one as well. It was not unheard of for a zealot to quietly stab someone like Zacchaeus in a crowd and slip away.
At any rate, he’s in a tree hoping for a chance to see Jesus. Nothing more. Just see the celebrity in town. Remarkably, Jesus stopped under the tree. Zacchaeus has quite a view. His day is made - or he may have thought. But Jesus looks up and then calls him by name. Not only that, but tells his that the party is at his house. The crowd can’t believe it. Was Jesus out of his mind? What could he be thinking? His prophetic vision must be off, because He wouldn’t want to be caught being at a party with him.
Try imagining what the dinner party was like. Zacchaeus is suddenly the center of positive attention. He’s the host of the social event of the year. Everybody wants to be there. The teachers and scribes are going out of their minds, seeing the lowest of the low hanging out with Jesus and his crew, and they have plenty to say about that.
But rather than focus on their indignation, think about what the dinner conversations were among Zac and his friends with the disciples. One was a Zealot. One was a tax collector like them! A tax collector as a disciple? A zealot and a tax collector hanging out together? All of that was unheard of. Jesus not only engaged with Zacchaeus but had called a tax collector to be one of his disciples! They listened with close attention to Levi (a.k.a. Matthew) relate his story about how he’d been about his business when Jesus came up to him and gave him the offer of a lifetime. The bible story focuses on Jesus’ exchange with Zacchaeus and rightly so. But I have to think the interaction with the disciples at the party had an impact as well. How did the conversation go and how did that reframe Zacchaeus’ world view? We know something profound happened at that event because Zacchaeus made the announcement that he was donating half his wealth to the poor and added that if he’d defrauded anyone he’d pay them back with interest.
That’s quite a transformation. From a sinful, greedy, chief tax collector working for the enemy and looking out for number one to an open handed generous man living up to his name. Because his name means “pure” or “innocent.” A prophetic proclamation at birth that became true at his re-birth.
It all started because Jesus knew his name. But I think the disciples at the party played a part. It’s something to ponder. It's no secret that I am a Christ follower. But do my conversations with people stir any hope within them?
My apologies for being MIA the past couple months. After the medical issues I experienced in spring, friends and family were also dealing with personal crises. Dad is winding down and getting harder and harder to understand. Mike’s uncle had two strokes. A friend has been in and out of the hospital with no answers as to what might be the issue. In fact, I got a text to update me on her situation as I sit and compose this. One thing after another and after a while I’ve just lost heart for writing.
But I have been working on painting and photography. Images work when words fail. At least they do for me. The painting is mostly abstract work. On Mondays I volunteer at an urban coffee house where coffee and bagels are free and the cafe is a safe place for people in the neighborhood to create community. I was talking with one of the guys over coffee asking me what my paintings were about. I told him it was about the mystery of prayer. That the paintings were black on black with metallics thrown in to represent what prayer is like - a spiritual quest to represent prayer in paint. Up to that point the conversation had been pretty superficial. He stopped eating and looked me in the eye. “That’s really powerful,” he said. “I like the way you think.” That took me by surprise. Can’t say I’ve heard that very often.
Images work when words fail. I find in prayer I am often at a loss for words, but that’s where I can trust that God can read my heart. My tears are my prayers. My anguish and feelings are my prayers. My paintings are my prayers. And God, being good and gracious, hears and understands those prayers.
I’ll leave you with this triptych. It’s called Mystery, Questions, Wonder.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.