INTRODUCTION: OBSTACLES!!! And MORE OBSTACLES!! They are always there, in front and behind and to the side. Sometimes we may feel that life is an obstacles race like the ones you see on TV that the runners have to jump over and over until they arrive at the finish line. Life could be like that sometimes and there is an inordinate amount of energy spent jumping over so many obstacles: economics, relationships, sickness, families that sometimes get in your way, job security, school, tuition, jobs, even at times children who misbehave or relatives who misunderstand us ... Obstacles and more obstacles. They are always there. We may have even read books like the ones entitled "Chicken Soup for the Soul", by Jack Canfield and Mark V. Hansen where we are given the stories of many people who have overcome great obstacles and have made even a name for themselves.
There is a man in the Gospel from this Sunday's Gospel (Luke19: 1-10) who also faced a lot of obstacles in his life but who was determine to do something about it. He was excommunicated from the rest of the Jewish community, he could not attend the Synagogue, he was a pariah because he had done the greatest betrayal: He was working for the occupying forces, the Romans, in the process of collecting Taxes from his fellow Jews to give to the Romans, he had become very rich himself. That was the ultimate betrayal.
Our image of the man, whose name Luke give to us, is Zaccheus. We picture him as a short, pudgy, excitable guy shinning up a tree eager to see Jesus. And most probably we all like him. But his fellow people from Jericho most certainly did not like him at all. He was the town sinner. And then something happened. An itinerant Rabbi comes to town and there a revolution. Everyone wants to see this new Teacher. And then Jesus looks up that tree and sees Zaccheus and says to him: Zaccheus, "Come down. I mean to stay at your house today" (v. 5). Then Zaccheus opens his home and his heart to Jesus and allows that charged encounter to transform his life by overcoming all the OBSTACLES that had been placed in his life, by himself and by others. This is such a transformative moment that even Jesus himself says aloud: "Today salvation has come this house" (v. 10).
In Jesus' mind probably two things counted: First that he was a son of Abraham, a Jew. And therefore part of the chosen community from which He had come Himself. And second, that Zaccheus was LOST and He had come to save all those lost through sin and darkness. Sometimes we are taken aback and even surprised how proximate was Jesus to all, even to sinners, with his tender mercy and love. At times we think of religion in terms of the saved. Oh, we know that God forgives sinners, but they are not good prospects to build a parish on. Is a bunch of prostitutes, drug dealers, and serial killers going to build a church or a school?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a lay Lutheran Pastor and Theologian, a staunch critic of the Nazi regime, who later imprisoned him and executed him, speaks in his Book "The Cost of Discipleship", London 1948, about "cheap grace" versus "costly grace". Cheap Grace is discipleship without the cross. Costly Grace is the treasure hidden in the field. Is the total answer to the call of Jesus to follow Him. Costly Grace confronts each of us as it did Zaccheus to leave the past behind and overcome any OBSTACLE that is placed before us. Zaccheus had a lot of courage opening his heart to receive God's costly grace. Are you? Am I?