Those of you who ‘acted’ in the haunted garage may have a leg up on today’s gospel question. I always found it a bit disconcerting how ‘easy’ it was to enter into those scary roles on Halloween. Put on a mask or some face paint, add a costume, a prop or two, and the normally meek and mild mannered Father Bill became a zombie or werewolf or whatever par excellence. The scariest part of Halloween is how easily we can become things that we are not.
Zacchaeus certainly knew that truth in his life. We’re told that he is a tax collector and a wealthy man. We’re not told, but it is implied, that he was pretty hated by so many – because of the shock of the people in reaction to Jesus’ invitation to come to his house. But it was not how he started out. Like so many, he found a job with the occupiers, because it was a living, a way to put bread on the table. It didn’t take long to enjoy a slightly better standard of living than his peers. And good wines. And a fine house. Hated by his peers, he becomes more and more insulated, more and more withdrawn from those normal relationships that keep a person balanced and centered. Layer upon layer of ‘costumes’ covered Zacchaeus, and soon, he could hardly recognize the man in the mirror. He had become the role he put on – that of a wealthy, hated tax collector.
But you sense it is not his truest and best self. Because it doesn’t take much for that to all crumble. Just the word that Jesus was coming to town was enough to make him lay aside all his dignity and climb a tree for just a glimpse of this man. How undignified. How utterly unlike a ‘wealthy’ tax collector! “Come down, for I must dine in your house this day.” That invitation, by love itself, is enough for all the masks and walls and pretending to completely collapse. “If I have defrauded, I’ll pay back 4 times over. Half of what I own, I will give to the poor – I don’t need it. It’s all a part of that sham life that I have hated for so long anyway… What a change in him when he meets love itself.
And you and I – we’re invited to let go of the masks and costumes and images of our selves that is anything less than what God wants of us to be. For that same Lord that told Zacchaeus: “I must dine at your house today” also wants to dine with us this day. And he bids us leave behind the costumes and masks and walls that we erect to protect ourselves. Leave behind those roles you have stepped into – perhaps as a protection, or perhaps intentionally as a way to ‘define yourself’ – and let the one who loved Zacchaeus back into life also love you into life.
Because the scariest part of Halloween (and perhaps all our days) is how easily we can become what we are not. Here around this altar, we always learn what we are and who we are – people who are loved and valued by God and people who are called to be fully who God created us to be…