by Catherine Malotky—

God of grace, in Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus, we see you at work.

Zacchaeus was likely not a scoundrel to begin with, though as a tax collector he certainly had to compromise over time to meet the requirements of his job. I wonder: What values did he challenge first? What stories did he tell himself so that he could live with his actions? What trade-offs did he make to avoid facing his less savory instincts and behaviors? How did the stress of his circumstances allow him to turn away from so much of what healthy social fabric requires?

For many of us, these last months have tested our loyalties, our commitment to the common good, and our senses of who we are and what we are capable of. We have been deeply stressed by the effects of a pandemic that marches across the landscape and, perhaps, into our lungs. We are more accustomed to having some control. Yet now we know that this virus can be waiting on any doorknob, any countertop, even
in the air. When we are this vulnerable, God, survival can become a singular goal. Have we observed ourselves clutching our own needs and neglecting the needs of others? Have we fixated on one big problem and resisted entering into the complexity of the whole situation? Have we sought someone to blame, so we can be angry and complain in order to drown out our fear and grief?

I confess, dear God, that I have done so over the last months. I worried about running out of toilet paper. I was afraid my husband would bring the virus home from the hospital where he works. I was furious at people who defied social distancing directives. More personally, I was quick to blame others who added upset to my upset. I have been fragile, not trusting in your capacity to redeem even the hardest of circumstances. I am grieving those I have lost, and most of all, I have been worried primarily about myself and those closest to me.

I have found it hard to even think about those whose homes are not a refuge, or who have no home. I have avoided imagining places where health care systems struggle to respond to everyday maladies, much less a novel virus that infects exponentially. I confess that I have climbed into a tree, hoping to be able to see over others and catch a glimpse of you, healer of our every ill. How many of us have felt ashamed of what emerged within us in these months, of how we turned away from your two great requests of us: to love you with our whole heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves?

But I also believe that, like Zacchaeus, you see us up in the tree, trying hard to blend in, hoping no one will notice how we have slipped up, how vulnerable we really are. You see us, and you invite us to
come down.

The Rev. Catherine Malotky is an ELCA pastor, retired from full-time paid work for the sake of dear relationships and interests.

This article is from the July/August 2020 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.

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