Zacchaeus to the rescue

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by Roger Carr-Jones
Marriage & Family Life Coordinator for the Diocese of Westminster

4th May 2020

“I must stay at your house today”

In this time of crisis feeling isolated is not an unusual feeling and is one that crosses my mind when my daily walk takes me past what I call my Zacchaeus Tree (see picture). Zacchaeus is a biblical character who through his profession as a collaborator with the Romans as a tax collector knew first hand what social isolation was.  At this time, we might all feel that we are stuck in the branches of a tree gazing out and fearful of participating in life. Well don’t.

One of the great fruits of this time of isolation is to discover, for the most part, that we are not as isolated as we thought. Just consider the innovative ways we have found to stay in contact with family, friends and work contacts. Whilst we might feel constrained by the realities of physical distancing, we know that this does not necessitate social distancing, as through the various forms of communication and social media a new world has opened up to us.

We have also found a new way to communicate as a couple or as a family, as the pandemic has helped us to strengthen the bonds that unite us and encouraged new ways to be supportive of each other.

Modern technology, whilst sometimes an inhibitor of good communication, is now a huge gift and sign of human creativity through which many aspects of normality can continue. Our need to see, hear, touch, taste and smell those whom we love has gained a new intensity as we learn to appreciate the gift of each other more deeply. Where previously we may have taken our relationships for granted, we now yearn to be connected and to express our deepest needs. Have we, for example, spent more time in deeper conversations with each other than in the days when our lives were not determined by boundaries and restrictions?

Have we also noticed that running through all our relationships is the unseen, yet guiding hand of the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit, so to speak, has always been online, which a quick reading of scripture brings home to us.  Even if there are times when we are in conflict either with ourselves, or with others, where have we noticed God’s grace prompting us, guiding us back onto the path that leads to fulness of life? Has our prayer life as an individual, couple, or family changed in the last few weeks? Not so much in the quantity of prayer but in its nature.

Have there been moments in the last few weeks, when we experienced a sense of the closeness of God in the upsets and occasional quarrels? Being aware that God’s grace is always at work is a helpful way of learning to become the ‘domestic church’ in all its manifestations. At a time when we are unable to gather publicly in church, we are rediscovering in the domestic setting the presence and power of being ‘Church’. It is worth reflecting on the numerous examples in scripture of Jesus being found in domestic settings, simply sitting at table and chatting. Our homes, like our inner selves, are that personal space where, in the everyday events of life, we encounter God and grow in faith.  

One of my favourite bible stories is that of the tax-collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19: 1-10), with those wonderful words from Jesus, which are also directed at us in the domestic setting: “for I must stay at your house today”. Across the length and breadth of our nation this invitation is being made and accepted on a daily basis. There is no need to close doors to hide the mess because we have such a visitor. Instead it is the opportunity to make space at the table to let Our Lord sit with us and to talk about our life, our faith and our hopes.

No doubt, there are tensions within our closest relationships which may need to be healed, rather than left to fester. By inviting Jesus to our tables, we will be able to find the words that we need to express, and to clear the channels of communication. Discerning where the Holy Spirit is accompanying us at this time is part of this period of a rediscovery of our relationship to the natural world, to one another and to God.