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?
Jane Rutherford has an excellent article on the Scribophile Writing Blog. The title is Writing Bootcamp: Writing Whenever, Wherever, Whatever. Whenever I’ve gone to a writer’s conference it never fails that I come away feeling guilty. Every workshop stresses that a writer needs to set a writing schedule and stick to it. I know there’s validity to that statement. As an artist I would tell my students the importance of spending time in the studio every day. Even if you didn’t paint that day, get into your workspace, spend time in there, draw, prepare painting surfaces, clean up the space, and just do something. Eventually, after putting in the discipline of setting aside the time the painting ideas will flow. I know that discipline works no matter what the creative medium is.
However, I am in a season of life where I simply cannot plan like that. Work might call and ask me to come in, or my in-laws may call with a crisis that cannot be ignored. If I find myself with an afternoon free, I most likely need to mow the lawn. Which brings me back to Ms. Rutherford. She observes that the popular technique of setting a writing schedule and sticking to it sounds great, but from experience she knows it can be rather difficult. Just seeing a professional writer say that in print was a massive relief. Her advice? Instead of setting up a schedule that won’t work and feeling guilty for not following it, write whatever you can, whenever you can, wherever you can. That advice is flipping brilliant in its simplicity. Be it writing or painting, just do what you can. Have a notebook or sketchbook with you at all times and do what you can, when you can.
With that in mind, I’ve pulled out a manuscript I’ve been working on for a few years and once more started working on it. It is in very rough form, but I’ve polished up about eighty pages (with the help of an editor) and it’s time to start working on it again. It’s my story of caring for my mother who was a very difficult woman. I stopped working on it because of all the things that were happening in my life and I had started to believe that my story doesn’t matter. Recently, I ran across a quote by Frederick Buechner that reminded me that idea was wrong. He said, “The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story”. My story matters. The story of forgiveness and care giving is something other people need to hear. We’re all in this together and we all need to share our stories.
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.