Season 9 - Week 4
“Encounters that change us”
Meeting people and spending time together can be potentially life changing; for example, in the case of couples who meet each other seemingly randomly and who then decide to marry each other. Sometimes encounters with another person can set us off in a new direction in life. Such was the case of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Clearly Zacchaeus was keen to get a look at Jesus for whatever reason. Despite the embarrassment of a grown man climbing a tree, his desire was such as to lead him to climb up anyway.
There’s an urgency in the encounter between the two men. Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name to come down the tree quickly and Zacchaeus immediately responds. Clearly something important was happening. Jesus goes to Zacchaeus’s house to spend time together for an encounter to take him in a new direction - a direction that would see Zacchaeus make up for the wrong doing in his life.
Reflecting on that short passage of scripture (it’s only 9 verses) brings out some important lessons - how the experience of spending time with some people can take us in a different direction and how relationships can change us.
In thinking about my own life and ministry today, some 30 years after being ordained a priest, I would say that meeting Rev Steve Stockman (who wrote the first reflection in this season of Open Me), the minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church for the first time, in a cafe in Belfast, has been one of those life changing moments.
Friendship with Steve has been a life enriching experience bringing me on a journey of making peace and working for reconciliation in ways I could never have imagined.
One of the features about the Jesus/Zacchaeus meeting in Luke 19 is the absence of miracles - there is a simplicity in two human beings meeting.
When Steve and I share our journey we often say that the key to the peace making and reconciliation work is our friendship and what we do is not rocket science.
That friendship has led us to writing joint articles in newspapers, speaking to a political party conference (Sinn Féin), appearing together on TV, sharing our story in churches, universities and schools. And to think that this all came from a simple cuppa… and then another.
When we met together on 13th September 2012, it was to visit together an art exhibition of the work of victims of the Troubles which a friend had invited us to view. As it happened, he had forgotten to put it in his diary, so instead of going our separate ways, we went off for more coffee and a conversation in the course of which we came up with an idea of a festival (4 Corners Festival - www.4cornersfestival.com). We are now planning 4 Corners 2020 which will be our 8th. One of our events with Stephen Travers a survivor of an horrific attack on the Miami Showband will even feature in a Netflix documentary.
Like the Zacchaeus encounter in Luke 19, there are no miracles in the work Steve and I do together for peace and reconciliation. However, our friendship has been life-changing.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything,I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Can you think of people you have met from outside of your friendship group, faith community or family - people who you perceive to be very different from you - who have had an impact on your life and discipleship? Perhaps those relationships blossomed into friendships, or perhaps not, but think back on how they changed you.
As youth workers we KNOW the power of relationships to transform us, and others. Can you think of a young person that you could perhaps reach out to? Or perhaps someone else you come across each week that you could reach out to in friendship? It might be someone from a different background, country, religion, or age group? Be inspired by Jesus' pro-activity in inviting himself round to Zaccheus' house (not that we're suggesting you invite yourself over!). See if there is a way of getting to know them better, listening to their story and bridging some of the things that divide you.