Proper 26, Year C, Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, Luke 19:1-10
Reconciliation is difficult. It often means we have to look beyond ourselves at the greater good. Our wounds have to healed enough even though they may still sting or have scabs. Miroslav Volf, one of the speakers at clergy conference last week says that there are four components to reconciliation. Remember, repent or forgive, repair, and embrace. Most of us believe that our memories are good and that we have no problem remembering things, such as when we have been hurt by someone else. Nor do we always believe that we have hurt someone by our actions. Sometimes the hurt we inflict is completely unintentional or we may say that the other person is just overly sensitive. The truth is that our remembered stories, whether we are the victims or the perpetrator, do not always match. There are discrepancies between the two. Our memories are not only based on the reality of our situation but they become distorted by our emotions.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector. As you may remember from last week, tax collectors were thought of as traitors and robbers. If you are one of the people who Zacchaeus collected taxes from you may have a different recollection of the situation than Zacchaeus had. As a peasant farmer we may have a preconceived idea of who this tax collector is and we probably meet him with a lack of trust. It is possible that even if he was not extorting extra money from us we may believe the dealing was unfair. Zacchaeus on the other hand may also have a distorted idea of how much you owed. He may think that you are not as impoverished as you claim. He may have become numb to the desperation of the poor.
Most of us recognize that there are almost always two sides to a story. This is obvious when we are listing to our kids, our co-workers, or our family members. We rarely remember all the details exactly as someone else and the truth often lies somewhere in the middle. Science has shown that our memories are not very good at recalling events especially if there is any emotion involved. Victims tend to exaggerate the pain that was caused and they tend to presume the person who caused them harm had negative intentions. When we are the perpetrator we often diminish or discount the injury we have inflicted. What we did was no big deal. We also justify what we do, because we know that we are a good person and we know our motivations. In either case, whether we are the person hurt or the one who caused pain, we believe that our recollection of the situation it the more accurate of the two.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how Zacchaeus will make his restitution? Notice that he starts out by saying “if.” “If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” He has already allowed wiggle room. And who’s gets to decide who’s memory is accurate as to whether he defrauded someone? Now I don’t want to over-read this passage because it is obvious that Zacchaeus knows that he has not lived his life correctly. He hasn’t always used his status and the power of his position appropriately. He has not been living his life to the level of expectation that Jesus has for us. This is clear in the fact that he is giving away half of his possessions to the poor, right off the bat. He is repenting for what he has done. He is saying “I’m sorry.”
Zacchaeus, at this point, has a memory of the events in question and he is repenting for what he has done. Then by offering four times the amount he has defrauded he is making repair or restitution. Restitution, such as this, in excess of the loss is an Old Testament mandate. Now if we look at Miroslav Volf’s model, there is only one element left to consider; embrace.
We see that Christ embraces Zacchaeus when he tells him that Salvation has come to this house. And I can only imagine when Zacchaeus makes restitution with the people he hurt that they will offer forgiveness and embrace him as well. But this is the funny thing about reconciliation. Reconciliation is a two way street. If the victim does not forgive or if they forgive but do not embrace the perpetrator, then a rift remains. We can forgive with our lips but embracing the person can be hard. It can take time for the wound to begin to heal before this can even be considered. Likewise it is also possible for the victim to forgive the perpetrator even though the perpetrator is not willing to embrace a reconciled relationship.
Victims and perpetrators are not always individuals. They can be groups, or classes of people. They can be governments or nations. The oracle of Habakkuk brings us into the midst of pain and suffering where violence has broken out throughout the nation. We hear of lament as well as complaining to God. We hear that justice has been replaced by injustice. Habakkuk seems to be witnessing horrific scenes in which he would rather overt his eyes, but it is all around him and there is nowhere to hide.
For those of us who support Trump maybe in part this is where we are. We are tired of seeing injustice in our country and in the world; which seems to go unnoticed by, or be perpetrated by, career politicians such as Clinton. For those of us who support Clinton we may see Trump as the epitome of these injustices; someone who either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care how he contributes to the problems we witness.
If we are like Habakkuk we are waiting for God to speak to us, to give us an answer in a broken world. Habakkuk isn’t hiding and waiting. He is standing at his watch post, stationing himself on the rampart. He is putting himself in a clear position to see the entire field with clarity. He isn’t taking an active part in the problems he sees. He is observing, being a witness for the truth; a truth that is based in faith. He has disassociated himself enough so that he can be impartial to those around him. Yet, even as an observer he isn’t just passively looking onward; he is praying that God will answer his complaint about the injustices he is witnessing.
Eventually, the Lord does answer. When Habakkuk receives the answer, he is told to make it easy to understand and big enough for a runner to read. Essentially, he is to make a billboard for the world to see. The answer he receives to the injustice that is literally tearing apart his world surprised me. “Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.”
This answer goes back to one of our common themes over the last several weeks, humility; faith vs. pride. Our pride causes us to perpetrate harm against others. Even as a victim our pride prevents us from reconciling with others. Our pride doesn’t allow us to have conversations with people who disagree with us. It prevents our politicians from working across the aisle. We are a people of faith and as such we need to follow the example of Habakkuk and be less enmeshed in problems around us, reacting to them in a visceral way. We need to look at the whole picture while staying focused on our faith in prayer. Then when we receive an answer we can act accordingly; working with those who we do not completely agree with; finding solutions to the problems that are tearing and dividing our nation. I believe that we have a responsibility to vote. Our faith calls us to vote for the person who supports who we are as individuals and as a country in Christ.
No matter who wins this election we must find a way to reconcile with others. We need to find a way to work with each other for a common goal instead of against each other dividing our country. We need to look around us and forgive our neighbor who doesn’t even know that they have hurt us. Or that we have been hurt by them. It is in restoring our relationships with each other that we are also restored in our relationship with Christ. This restoration is what Zacchaeus did. It starts with faithful remembrance and culminates with embrace. It starts with having a spirit of faith in which we let our pride go so that the whole world can be healed.