The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes
Homily for the
Thirty-First Sunday of the Year
Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
October 30, 2016
Charles VI, who ruled France as King from 1380 to 1422, began suffering from bouts of insanity towards the end of his life. At first he just began acting strange, but his attacks grew more and more severe, eventually leading him to have terrible delusions. Among the delusions that the king suffered from was the idea that he was made of glass. He became absolutely convinced that with any false move or fall he would immediately shatter into a million pieces. This fear paralyzed him and he went to absurd lengths to ensure that he wouldn’t break. He wouldn’t let anyone touch him and he even had special reinforced clothing made. Charles become obsessed with his own perceived fragility, even though he was never really at risk, and it ruined the rest of his life. The walls he put up to protect himself deprived him of companionship and personal contact. And at the tender age of 53, Charles died a lonely death, a shell of his former self.
It’s easy to feel bad for poor Charles…he clearly wasn’t in his right mind and he suffered greatly for it. But let’s be honest with ourselves…what was a sickness of the mind for Charles can so often be in us a sickness of the heart. Isn’t it true that much of our lives are spent trying to protect ourselves from perceived fears? Maybe we’re afraid of getting hurt, or getting rejected, or loving without being loved in return…and because this fear can at times be so paralyzing we go to great lengths to protect our hearts from it. We build walls, we keep people at a distance, we put on façades…anything we can do to ensure that we won’t get hurt. Like Charles, we can sometimes over-estimate our fragility and take extreme measures to prevent ourselves from breaking. The problem is, when we don’t live in the truth, when we don’t learn to overcome our fragility and dare to become truly vulnerable, we end up missing out on the best things in life.
Our gospel today invites us into this mystery and challenges us to move from fragility to vulnerability. In the story of Zacchaeus, we encounter a fragile man who effectively shut himself away. As the chief tax collector in Jericho, Zacchaeus would have been despised…he would have been seen by his fellow Jews as a complete traitor and a cooperator in the oppressive Roman system as he became rich off of his own people. And despite all the money he was making, despite the fact that he was at the top of the career, I’d be willing to bet that, deep down, Zacchaeus was absolutely miserable. Imagine what his world must have been like. I can see him walking down the street, maybe with his head held high in pride, but inside he’s a wreck. Every face he encounters is a scowl – never a smile. Every word he hears is bitter – never cheerful. He probably can’t remember the last time someone invited him over for dinner, or checked up on him when he was sick, or sat down with him for a heart-to-heart. For whatever reason, Zacchaeus – in his own perceived fragility – chose a life that effectively kept everyone at a distance. He cut himself off, built up his walls, and prevented himself from giving and receiving love. And no doubt he felt that there was no way out of it.
But then something happens…Jesus comes to Jericho. Unable to explain it, Zacchaeus’ poor, closed-off, over-protective heart begins to beat again. No doubt at the end of his rope, Zacchaeus can’t take it anymore…the fear, the loneliness, the pain is all too much. But there’s something about this strange visitor that seems to offer him the promise of relief. Suddenly, out of nowhere, forgetting his own fragility and making himself completely and utterly vulnerable, Zacchaeus hurls himself up into a tree just to catch a glimpse of this man. The people standing around him were probably shocked…who would have thought that Zacchaeus, of all people, would care enough about something to climb a dirty tree. But there he was, exposed and vulnerable, sitting up there for all to see in that old sycamore tree, desperately searching and looking for the love he was made for. And then their eyes met…Zacchaeus locked eyes with Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Creator and creature. God and man. They stared at each other for a moment and Zacchaeus’ heart was pierced by a love that cannot be put into words. A love so powerful that he, from that moment on, changed his life, turning it around forever.
Had he never climbed that tree, had he never put aside his fears and exposed himself in utter vulnerability, Zacchaeus’ life-changing encounter with the Lord might never have happened. He would have stayed on the ground, safe and sound and fragile, continuing to live his agonizing lonely life in the protective shadows…and he would not have known the riches of love that were waiting for him.
So what about us? What walls do we need to knock down that we built around those fragile parts of our hearts? What trees do we need to climb in order to expose ourselves to the mystery of love? For each one of us it’s a little different. Maybe it’s something in our past that we’re ashamed of. Maybe we went through some kind of tragic event that has left us cold and shut off. Maybe it’s a past love that didn’t work out, or an addiction we can’t seem to overcome, or a sin we keep falling into. Whatever it is, whatever we are holding on to that in turn is holding us back from God’s love and the abundant life He calls us to, we’ve got to let go of it. Both Charles and Zacchaeus spent their lives trying to protect themselves…and while Charles remained in his fear, Zacchaeus climbed the tree. By opening himself up, by exposing himself, forgetting his fragility and becoming vulnerable, Zacchaeus was finally able to love and be loved…and the same is true for us.
In the hustle and bustle of this world, in the midst of all its craziness and sadness, the Lord walks in search of our own searching hearts. Today, let us be resolved to be open to the gift of His love. Today let us forget all of our pretenses, all of our hang-ups, all of our insecurities, all of our fears, and dare, in utter vulnerability, to embrace and to be embraced by the extraordinary gift of love. Today let us get up in our trees, no matter how ridiculous we think we might look, and cry out with Zacchaeus that we too want to love and to be loved! And when we find it difficult, we can look to the cross…we can look to the One Who climbed the tree of the cross, exposed and vulnerable for all to see, not because He had to, but because He loved us. Imagine…imagine what could happen to us and to our world if we lived in and modeled that vulnerable love every day of our lives…