Sunday, October 30, 2016

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

30 October 2016
Proper 26C

What do you see when you look in the mirror? 

I read a story once from a busy business woman in New York City, where on her way to work one day, she saw something unexpected. After she had entered her place of employment as usual, she went to catch an elevator up to her office floor. As she was walking up to the bank of elevators, she saw one was filling up and so she started running. Above the elevators was a line of mirrors and as she ran into the elevator, she caught a glimpse of someone she recognized as a friend but couldn’t place at the moment and she raised her hand to wave. After she was on the elevator on her way upstairs, she realized that the friend she had glimpsed in the mirror as she was running for elevator, was in fact herself. Her mind had recognized herself as a friend. 

What do we see when we look in the mirror? 

One thing I can tell you about living next door is that the Rectory has a lot of mirrors. There is a mirror right as you walk in the door, in the foyer, right over the front fireplace. There are mirrors in all the bathrooms, in some of the bedrooms, in the den, in the upstairs hallway, even in the basement! My favorite mirror in the house though is the mirror I brought with me. On my mirror I have written affirmations about life, reminders to connect with people, about who loves me, reminders to dance and be grateful. I have a little sign I found that says, “Objects in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of beauty.” I, like many others, long suffered from trying to compare myself to how others look and finding myself lacking. With all these gentle nudges in the right direction, I have learned to see beyond what society says looking back at me in the mirror.

What do we see when we look in the mirror?

As I have been settling into my new life here in Franklin, into my new home and my new vocation here at St. John’s, I have been pondering this question. Churches are well known for their identities, their DNA. If you have ever kept up with Diocesan news, you’d probably be able to tell me the characteristics of the different churches in the area, whether one Episcopal church is a problem or whether one only has a contemporary service or is high church or not. If you keep up with Franklin news, you’d be able to tell me which church in town is most welcoming, or does the most for those in need, or is the strictest about their rules. But as I learn the rhythm of St. John’s, I have wondered, what would we see if we held up a mirror to our community? Does that line up with what others see in us? When I think of St. John’s, I think of a beautiful church with a community that tries hard to take care of each other and support each other. That is what I see, but is that what everyone else sees? 

What do we see when we look in the mirror?

In the gospel passage, we know what everyone else thought of Zacchaeus. He was short and disliked. He was a traitorous tax collector, dealing with the Roman oppressors, and making himself wealthy off the extra money he demanded of his constituents. I can’t imagine the names the people of Jericho called him behind his back! But what did Zacchaeus see when he looked in the mirror? Did he see the socially constructed ideas of who he was? Did he see himself as a traitorous tax collector? As someone who couldn’t be trusted? Did he see himself as a conflicted man doing his job to the best of his ability but upsetting lots of people? Was he proud of what he did? We do not know, but in any case, I imagine that whatever he saw in the mirror before he met Jesus changed after he had dinner with Jesus. Interestingly, the original Greek text is a little vague on the verb tense in the passage when Zacchaeus stands in front of Jesus and says, “"Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I pay back four times as much." He could have been already practicing almsgiving and repayment. But even if he was already giving to the poor and repaying those who were defrauded, the experience of Jesus is a turning point in Zacchaeus’ life. Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as two different things. First, Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as lost. Second, Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as a son of Abraham. These are two very important traits. 

At this point in the book of Luke, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. This is one of the last stories before the week of stories that encompasses what we know as Holy Week. The story of Zacchaeus ends at Luke chapter 19, verse 10. The story of Jesus sending his disciples to get the donkey that carries him during his triumphal entry we know as Palm Sunday starts at Luke chapter 19, verse 29. This is one of his last moments to make clear what he has been doing and saying across the Judean and Galilean countrysides. It’s all in that last sentence, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” 

Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as lost, whether he was already almsgiving or not. Zacchaeus was in a place in his life that he needed that connection with God, he needed to know he was found by God. Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as a son of Abraham as well. As a member of the community of God and as beloved child of God. The words that Jesus says, sharing Zacchaeus’ identity as a son of Abraham, as a member of God’s kingdom, changed Zacchaeus, and probably all those who heard them. Zacchaeus was a traitorous tax collector, the vilest of the vile, and yet… the Son of Man, the prophet who walked around curing the sick and spreading good news, he recognized this poor excuse of a man as a lost, but beloved member of God’s kingdom. 

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  

The most important view on any of our lives isn’t what we see in the mirror. It isn’t what our neighbors see or society sees when looking at us. The most important view on our lives is what God sees when looking at us. I think most of us stand with Zacchaeus before the Lord, knowing the yearning in our own hearts to see Jesus, knowing what we do and what we don’t do. And as Zacchaeus is known by Jesus as a lost but beloved member of God’s community, we too are known by God as lost but beloved members of the community. What God sees when looking at us is more than we could ever see by looking in a mirror. What God sees when looking at us is more important than anything we could ever think about ourselves. God sent Jesus to share with us what is seen, lost and beloved members of the community who need a good shepherd to reconnect them to the source of all creation. Thanks be to God for his point of view!