Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Imprinted With Jesus and His Desire
Cultures differ. We know that, but not everyone. A culture is a set of patterns of human activity with certain symbol-codes, which give meaning to human actions. Cultures encourage some actions and discourage others.
Cultural patterns get deeply imprinted so that we barely give them thought. Take greeting another person in our culture. We are quick to extend a hand to another, who takes it just as quickly. The phrase, “they gave their hands in greeting,” conjures up an action about which we have no doubt. That action is? Yes! Shaking hands.
Not every culture greets the way we do. With hands folded the Japanese bow to one another, and the junior person bows more deeply to the senior in age or rank. During my month in Japan its symbolic gesture of greeting never came immediately; I automatically offered my hand. It became an instinctive twitch to offer it, reminding me I truly belonged to my culture.
In Greece, which I began visiting in the 1970s, extending a hand in greeting wasn’t done on first meeting. When our cultural imprinting moved me to extend my hand in greeting, a Greek would look at it and at me with uncertainty. No Greek, though, failed to converse and help me. Clasping hands was reserved for friends.
I mention this to help you appreciate more the many conflicts and confrontations the religious professionals had with Jesus, who so often dined with people his culture considered ungodly at best or even opposed to God at worst.
Friendship in Jesus’ day was taken most seriously indeed. Table fellowship was as serious an undertaking as sex. People didn’t eat with just anyone! Eating symbolized a unity with another with whom you shared your soul, your heart, your mind. Tax-collectors were considered sinners because they extorted in collusion with the Roman colonizers and oppressors of their own, God’s people. "Tax-collectors" is a symbol-code for sinners in gospel culture. Religious culture contains a community’s experience; it is the agent of the community’s expressions of faithfulness and faithlessness./1/
God had revealed through Moses ritual ways of restoring right relationship with God and with others. God’s heart desires reconciliation. Many obsessed about the rituals with a disastrous a result: they lost any feeling for God’s heart.
People, who felt they were not in right relationship with God and who desired to reconcile, streamed to Jesus. His encounter with Zacchaeus opens our eyes to God’s desire: in Jesus God sought people to reconcile them! God takes this initiative perhaps more often than people.
Jesus extended this divine initiative in many ways, notably staying at their houses and sharing their meals. Both of those human actions of familiarity, reserved for good friends, Jesus transformed into divine searching and experiences of divine generosity. Coming to our Lord’s table and sharing in his Eucharist reminds us that our risen Lord welcomes all. Sharing his Eucharist empowers us to embody the divine desire to reconcile and welcome all--in short, to grow more worthy of our divine calling as living witnesses of God’s heart.
Ease into your 15 minutes with Jesus this week by composing yourself in the call the Trinity extends each moment to you: “We love you as you are and invite you to grow more confident as the stewards of all we have created.” Ask Zacchaeus, who longed to see who Jesus was, help you notice Jesus addressing you. Converse with Jesus, asking Jesus to help you feel more deeply his forgiveness and, working through you, to extend his generosity to others. Consider one way you can extend his generosity to others and resolve to put it in action. Close your time with Jesus by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which reimprints within us our Christian culture each time we pray it.
/1/ Scripture contains the cultural patterns of a people, a time and a place far removed from ours. Joseph V. Crockett has written:
Scripture is taught so that persons may become formed and transformed into faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. The aim is for learners to claim the life of Jesus as their own and to embrace an identity in the fullness of their lives. But the formative and transformative processes must not ignore the cultural context through which identity emerges or faith is expressed. Culture is the container of a community's experience and the agent of the community’s expressions of faithfulness and faithlessness.(His Teaching Scripture from an African-American Perspective is out of print. Sojo.net/verse and voice emailed this quotation 30 Oct 2007.)
Wiki-image of Jesus calling Zacchaeus is in the public domain. The Wiki-image of the Zacchaeus-sycamore is used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license.