Rev. George Miller
“Embracing Our Costumes”
Oct 31, 2010
It’s Halloween: a time for tricks and treats, chocolate and scary films. Like we said last week, Halloween has grown in popularity, not just with kids, but with adults who enjoy putting on outfits full of playful imagination.
With those costumes I’ve noticed there is a sense of ease and friendliness. Go to an adult Halloween gathering and you’ll find folk relaxed, laughing and easily engaged in conversation with others they’ve just met.
Why is that? Some may say that putting on a costume allows people to hide who they are so they can pretend to be someone they’re not, allowing them to feel free and to let go of whatever shyness, inhibitions or worries they may have, if even for one night.
This may be true for some, but I’m starting to wonder if the costumes we wear actually allow us to be the person we really are and who we have hidden from others, even ourselves.
For example, those who dress as a superhero, like Superman or Wonder Woman, or those who opt for true life heroes like soldiers, doctors and police.
Does donning a cape or a similar accessory require a person to already have within them a bit of heroism and good will? And if so, does their costume foreshadow a future yet to come or a calling yet to be embraced?
I’d like to propose that for some folk the costume they chose to wear can reveal who that person truly is deep, deep down, and that in a round about way this is also what happens when one encounters Christ.
Again and again Scripture testifies that when people meet Jesus a transformation happens. For example, Simon thinks he’s to spend the rest of his life as a fisherman, but discovers he’s actually a fisher of men.
Saul thinks he’s meant to persecute the church but discovers he is meant to preach the Gospel and grow the church.
I see part of this theme in today’s reading. In Luke 19:1-10 we have Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. He meets a man named Zacchaeus, who we are told is a short, rich, chief tax collector.
But is that really who he is, or has he been wearing the wrong costume? Will his encounter reveal him to be something else, something more, and someone heroic?
First, some history. Tax collectors collected money for the Roman government. Jewish tax collectors were seen by other Jews as traitors who were unclean and unworthy of being considered a child of God.
Chief tax collectors, such as Zacchaeus, were even more despised. They were like bookies, paying people’s taxes upfront then demanding payment with exorbitant fees added on. They often hired slaves and unskilled people to do their dirty work.
Chief tax collectors earned a hefty profit, so Zacchaeus would have been hated by most; the ultimate bad guy who lived off the working poor barely able to get by.
There were also certain social rules back then. First, men were not supposed to run in public. It was seen as uncouth and low-class. Second, men did not climb trees- that was what children did. Third, religious leaders would not enter the house of a tax collector lest they also be considered unclean.
Again, Zacchaeus was a short, rich, chief tax collector. But was that his true costume?
Let’s revisit the story. Jesus comes to town. The crowds have gathered, and Zacchaeus wants to see him for himself, but because of his height he can’t.
So Zacchaeus disregards all social etiquette and runs ahead and climbs a tree. Upon seeing this, Jesus tells him to hurry down, invites himself over and Zacchaeus, happy as can be, comes down from the heights
Then he spiritually peels back the assumed definitions of his self to reveal his true costume: he invites Jesus into his house; he offers to give half of what he has to the poor; he says he will pay back those he may have defrauded, with interest.
This prompts Jesus to acknowledge the hero within him by saying “Salvation has come to this house for he is a child of Abraham.”
Again, Zacchaeus was called a short, rich, chief tax collector. But is that really who Zacchaeus is? Someone to be despised, blessed only with finances?
The answer is no. His encounter with Jesus reveals the “S” that is on his chest and that Zacchaeus is much, much more then that.
First, people saw him as a tax collector, a despised outsider who was assumed to be dishonest.
I would not be surprised if Zacchaeus bought into that lie, pushing the envelope on what he could get away with, especially if people already told him he could never consider membership in the family of God.[i]
But he meets Jesus and his real costume is revealed: he is indeed a beloved child of God and always had been, even if others refused to see believe it.
And because Zacchaeus is a member of the God’s holy family, he is free and capable of doing good things and worthy of love.
Zacchaeus embraces his true outfit and repents of his former ways, finding a way to set things right.
Second, people thought of Zacchaeus as short. But he was far from being short: he was tall in self-fullness.
So what if men did not run or climb trees? He was a big enough man not to worry what others thought or let so-called social decorum to get in his way of salvation.
Like Spiderman he heroically scrambled up that tree, a man big in his self-fullness, doing what he needed to do to see Jesus.
Such passion and determination perhaps alluded to the traits he already possessed that allowed him to be a chief tax collector.
Finally, Zacchaeus was defined as being wealthy, but as we discover, he was rich with something else- spirit.
He clearly had a heart filled with enthusiasm and love, even if he had to suppress it to do his job, even if he did not fully realize it until the moment he met Jesus.
Zacchaeus was rich in joy at the idea of seeing Jesus, and when Jesus spoke to him, that richness grew into full blown happiness.
Happiness that allowed him to extend hospitality, happiness that motivated him to give half of what he had away, showing that when one is rich in joy, it is that much easier to part with the worldly things we thought would make us happy.
Salvation comes to a short, financially well-off enemy of the people, and through his contact with Jesus, Zacchaeus’ false costume comes undone and he finds himself dressed in the true clothes of righteousness.
He repents, he welcomes, he gives, he restores, and he laughs. He is happy.
And one can only imagine how this newer, truer costume influences Zacchaeus’ relationships with his family, his employees and those he collects taxes from.
No longer alienated from the family of God, Zacchaeus become a truly big man, rich in joy, who belongs, is blessed, and able to bless others.
In conclusion, when Jesus enters into our lives, something happens. Some might say that we are transformed into someone else.
I will say that perhaps we’re actually introduced to a reality that was always there, waiting to be released.
When we have an encounter with the living Lord we are set free from who we think we are and from how others want to see us.
We are ushered into our truer selves, into who we were always destined to be, who God has always wanted us to be: beloved Children of God, part of the holy family, saved and made well. Tall in our faith and rich in spirit.
Thanks be to God our Father, Jesus our Brother and the Spirit that propels us to be self-full and rich in joy.
Amen and amen.
[i] Ringe, 233.