Today is the Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we are rewarded with a diverse set of readings: We have a passage from Revelations, introducing us to the concept of Hot and Cold. We also have the famous Zacchaeus passage from Luke.
I cannot help but focus upon the Zacchaeus story, because it is my favorite passage among all of the Gospels. From the time I was young (I was always short for my age), Zacchaeus and I had a sort of special understanding. Short people sometimes have to create opportunities for themselves, and some become quite adept at doing so. I admired him for his tree idea, and even found an occasion or two to use it myself.
Even now, I can picture him, sitting in that tree, smugly patting himself on the back for his ingenuity. “This is the best seat in the house!” he says to himself, watching as Jesus comes closer. Zacchaeus is in the perfect place to see, but is also high up and out of the way so that he doesn’t have to get involved. He is in the best of both worlds.
He sees Jesus walk under his tree, and suddenly Jesus stops and looks up at him. Uh Oh. So much for not getting involved.
This passage is a little portrayal of the various types of people that Jesus must have dealt with as he ministered to the people in small towns like Jericho.
There was “the crowd,” the followers of Jesus who traveled with Him, walked along with Him, and hung on His every word. They were committed, and did not care who knew. In terms of hot and cold, they were the people whose faith ran hot.
There were also those who kept themselves at a distance, the “they” of the passage, who grumbled and criticized Jesus and His followers at every turn. They, too, were “followers,” but they did so only to look for opportunities to gather evidence against Jesus, or catch Him in some kind of ethical dilemma. In terms of hot and cold, they were the people whose faith ran cold.
Then there was Zacchaeus. He wasn’t a committed follower. He wasn’t a critic, either. He was in the middle. He was lukewarm.
Just as I am trying to decide the best use of my time and energy among all of the opportunities in my busy life, Jesus probably also had to make similar decisions. Should He dine at Zacchaeus’ house tonight? Or should He dine at the home of a fervent supporter? How, exactly, did Jesus choose whom to single out for these teaching and learning opportunities?
These are decisions that all ministers must face; they are also ethical decisions that health care providers must make, especially in times of crisis.
One tool that health care providers use extensively is that of triage (sorting, selection, choice). In triage’s simplest form, in an emergency situation, those needing emergency help are sorted into three classes: Those who will most likely survive whether they get emergency help or not, those who will most likely not survive whether they get emergency help or not, and those who will most likely survive only if they get immediate emergency help. The latter group is then, theoretically, the group that receives the most attention from the health care providers until additional resources arrive.
Applying triage to Jesus’ ministry: The followers of Jesus were already won over, so they would most likely continue to be devout followers whether they received special attention from Jesus or not. The criticizers would probably never be won over, because they would not let Jesus get close enough to them – either physically or emotionally – to touch them. But the Zacchaeus’ of the world, they were the ones that received the most attention from Jesus in the Gospels, because they were the ones that could be saved by a personal encounter with Him.
Like a pot of water just below the boiling point, Zacchaeus only needed for Jesus to turn up the heat the slightest bit. Zacchaeus responded by quickly turning from lukewarm to hot. The inherent generosity and righteousness that was buried within him bubbled to the surface, quickly replacing the stinginess and lawlessness that had previously ruled his heart.
He was saved that day because he met Jesus halfway.
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