Changed: Zaccheus and Ramona
Luke 19:1-10 (Zacchaeus)
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales
When a first-grade girl woke up one morning in October and saw the paper cut-out jack-o-lantern she had taped to her window the night before she jumped out of bed filled with excitement. “Hooray,” she bubbled, “It’s Halloween!”
She was excited because she was finally going to get to wear the scary witch costume she had been waiting for. She liked scaring people, and she liked the shivery feeling of being scared herself.
So she was extra excited about the rubber mask her mother had bought her. It was so creepy that at first she didn’t want to touch it, much less slip it on over her head. It was the grayish-green color of mold and had stringy hair, a hooked nose, snaggle teeth, and a wart on its nose. When she had muster the courage last night to put it on and look at herself in the mirror, SHE even got scared until she reminded herself, “That’s really me in there.”
That day at school, the girl took delight in terrifying her classmates and shouting, “I’m the biggest, baddest witch in the world.” She chased pirates, and ghosts, and ballerinas. She started pulling the curls of a girl dressed like Little Bo Peep. She thought it was funny when other kids called her “Old Witch.” It WAS funny, at first.
But then, the girl began to worry. Nobody seemed to know who she really was. Everyone kept calling her “witch” and nobody seemed to remember that she was really just a nice little girl trying to have some fun. She stood still and was almost about to cry when she heard her teacher, Mrs. Binney, say: “Come on, Ramona. Come join the parade.”
Ramona had never been so happy to hear her name. Someone knew who she was. She was free again to be herself.
Something a little like this happened to the man in our gospel reading today. Zacchaeus was a man who enjoyed scaring his neighbors, and he didn’t do it just for fun. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, and in his days that was not a respected government job. He threatened his neighbors until they paid him money that he would give to the enemies of his own people, and he forced them to give him more than they owed, so he could keep some for himself. Zacchaeus lied, tormented, and cheated the people of Jericho.
So everyone was surprised one day to hear Jesus call out to him, “Come on, Zacchaeus!” You might remember from the story that Zacchaeus had climbed a tree to get a better look at Jesus, because he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. Maybe you know that feeling. Maybe Zacchaeus thought he could hide behind the branches the way Ramona hid behind her mask, and not be noticed. But Jesus noticed him, and called him by name. Jesus didn’t call him down from the tree so he could scold him, either. Instead, he treated Zacchaeus like a friend.
“Zacchaeus,” Jesus said, “hurry and come down for I must eat at your house today.” Now that really surprised the people of Jericho, who complained that Jesus was going to the home of a sinner – someone who had done many things to hurt God and other people.
But Jesus saw deeper than they did; he saw what was really inside Zacchaeus. He saw a good man. And Zacchaeus did become good again. He told Jesus he would give half of everything he owned to people who were poor. And to the people he had cheated, he would pay them back four times what he had taken from them.
When Jesus called his name, Zacchaeus was changed. Someone knew who he was. Like Ramona, he was free to be himself again.
No matter how you dress up this Halloween – no matter what other ways you might one day try to hide – I hope you’ll always remember from this story that God sees the good in you. God calls you by name, and sets you free to be the best self you can be. Amen.