Saturday, October 29, 2016
MY UNCOMMON COLD
This morning I was reflecting on tomorrow’s gospel story from Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector. You remember how he, “seeking to see who Jesus was,” but being too short to see over the people in the crowd, climbed a sycamore tree, so that he could see. Then Jesus, seeing him in his undignified perch, calls him by name and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner. In response to criticism that Jesus “has gone to stay at the house of a sinner,” Jesus responds that he hasn’t come for the righteous, but to “seek and save what was lost.”
The translation in the lectionary preserves an important play on words from the original Greek. The verb zeteo means both “to seek after” and “to attempt.” Luke uses it in both senses in the Zacchaeus story. The episode begins with Zacchaeus’ “seeking to see who Jesus was.” This tax collector, despised by his fellow Jews for working for the Romans, is seeking (zeteo) Jesus.
By the end of the story, however, Jesus has turned the tables: “Zacchaeus, come down! Today I must stay at your house!” And to make the point as clearly as possible, Luke has Jesus say “The Son of Man has come to seek (zeteo) … what was lost.
Zacchaeus, the seeker, has now become the sought. The hospitality of the table has been reversed as well: Jesus is no longer dining at the table of this tax collector, but Zacchaeus is feasting at the table of the Lord’s infinite love and forgiveness.
This past week I’ve had a cold. Not a world-class one, but serious enough to make me feel sluggish and tired all the time. I took catnaps, I excused myself from homeroom duties, and a couple of mornings I slept in until 7:00. I was conscious of not doing as much lectio (meditative reading of scripture) as I usually do, and of not having much energy to pray. My monastic vocation “to seek God” had faded badly under the onslaught of millions of invading microbes.
Then, this morning, it occurred to me that maybe that the past week’s slow-down in my search for God was a story of role reversal just like the one in Luke 19. I, the seeker, didn’t have the energy to go searching for God, seeking God, pursuing the Divine, but that left Jesus the opportunity He’d probably been looking for.
I can almost hear him saying, “Albert! Finally you’ve slowed down enough for me to catch up to you. I’ve been seeking you for months, but you’ve been so busy with your own project of seeking me, that I couldn’t manage to catch your attention. Now that I’ve found you lying here exhausted, taking a nap at 9:00 in the morning, I’ve got your attention at last. I want you to come and stay at my house and sit at my table, and just enjoy spending some quiet time together. You don’t have to do anything. Just come and sit down and enjoy my loving presence.”
I hope that as I recover from this cold, I won’t take up the same “God-seeking project” as before, but rather will keep listening for Jesus’ voice inviting me to climb down from my branch and come to stay with him in his house.