Anticipation…thrill…excitement…some of the feelings that accompany the thought of being chosen. As a child, I recall feeling a surge of these and more while raising my hand and waiting…longing to be chosen for one of the “premium” tasks during the school day. That is, the tasks that would get one out of the classroom (bringing books back to the library, clapping out the chalkboard erasers, etc.). I also recall these feelings while waiting to be chosen for a team during recess or gym class. So many times of waiting to be chosen during recess games of “red rover, red rover send … right over,” where the object was to break through the chain of hands on the opposite side.
As I think about it, I also remember feeling worry and anxiety in the instances where I was not chosen until further down line, or at all. Then there were the times of not breaking through the red rover line or not performing as I had hoped when it was my turn to “step up to the plate.” It is interesting how as we grow up, the aspects of the games of childhood follow us. They remain, only the structure morphs into adult forms (competing for a job, putting an offer in for a home, etc.). Just as in childhood, some seem to end up better off than others and the temptation is often to fend for oneself only.
Thankfully God does not play the same way that we do. In the Gospel of Luke, Zacchaeus, the tax collector, who is short (both physically and in the eyes of the crowd due to his profession) is trying to see Jesus. We are told it is Jesus’ intention to simply pass through Jericho. There is a crowd in between Zacchaeus and Jesus. He cannot see over or through them. He cannot break through the “red rover line.” In human terms, “game over.”
However, Zacchaeus, led by his desire to see who Jesus is, notices a sycamore tree, runs over to it and climbs up. Jesus sees him and calls to him. Imagine what it was like for Zacchaeus to be seen and called by name by the One whom he was trying to see. Not only that, but Jesus is moved from his original intent of just passing through Jericho to instead stay at Zacchaeus’ house.
How wonderful for Zacchaeus! But that’s not what the crowd seems to think. They “grumble” in disbelief. They are not able to share in the joy with which Zacchaeus receives Jesus’ invitation. I wonder what it would have been like if the crowd had been able to be happy for Zacchaeus.
Perhaps, though, what matters most is that Zacchaeus and Jesus are not affected by the crowd’s dismay. They continue in the direction they have been called. They continue their encounter. As a result, we see a moment of conversion and the grace of God which reaches far beyond any line. Like Zacchaeus, we are all invited, we are all chosen by God. What a thrill!
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”
– Luke 19:1-10