Before I talk about the songs we're doing at St. Anne this weekend, these are a few of my prejudices on the texts of the gospel, because obviously they're going to affect the choices. The gospel is the pericope of Jesus visit to the house of Zacchaeus in Jericho. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, intending to pass through this good-sized town, when he spots a local tax-collector up in a tree trying to catch a glimpse of him and his entourage. Here we go again with Luke’s apparent preoccupation with Samaritans, tax-collectors, and people with bad reputations, many of whom end up at table with Jesus, or in his stories. We know the reputation of Zacchaeus from the reported response of the crowd: “He has gone to eat in the house of a sinner.” This is reminiscent of the grumbling of the Pharisees in 15:2 (“He welcomes sinners and eats with them) and of Simon in 7:39 (“If he were a prophet, he would know who and what kind of woman this is...”) So I'm thinking about about the scapegoating mechanism again - the righteous blaming the unrighteous for the ills of society; insiders blaming outsiders; and perhaps most perniciously for some of us, the poor blaming the rich for the ills they suffer. This isn’t to say there is not blame enough for everyone, or that some don’t deserve it, but that the act of blaming itself, and scapegoating, is the beginning of violence, and scapegoating does not address the real evil that is within the human heart, that of misdirected desire. We need to be saved; we need some "light in the darkness."
Back to Zacchaeus. The most interesting question for me in the story is, are the verbs used by Zacchaeus to describe himself in the present or future tense? This is a question scholars debate, so it should be taken into consideration. To some extent, it shapes our understanding of the story. Is it a conversion story? In other words, is Zacchaeus indeed the evil man that others make the tax collector out to be, and having Jesus come into his house changes him so that he pledges to give half of his belongings to the poor and pay back fourfold restitution? Or, as others point out, are the verbs in the present tense, so that, having Jesus in his house and being away from the accusing scapegoaters, people with whom Jesus has ample experience (and is about to have lethally more experience), Zacchaeus protests something like this, “Jesus, you are a good man, and you need to know this about me, whatever you might be hearing. I give half of my belongings to the poor, and if I ever cheated anyone, I pay them back fourfold.”
See what a difference that makes? Jesus, however, is interested neither in the scapegoating crowd nor the protestations of innocence, whichever it may be. He is aware that all are lost, in a sense, and that his mission is to “seek out what was lost” and bring it back into the house. What will happen after Jesus leaves? Will the tear between Zacchaeus and the townspeople be mended, either through his change of heart or his opening up about his life through the presence of Jesus? We don’t know. But part of what Jesus is exposing is the sinfulness of the accusers, showing their jealousy and ostracizing to be what it is, a breach of the covenant. The opportunity for everyone to change is at hand. Jesus will continue on his road to Jerusalem, and finally, once and for all, God will expose the scapegoating mechanism for the evil that it is. The innocent one will be slain by the guilty who will see his death as righteous, and God, raising Jesus up, will side with the innocent, and drive a stake into the heart of blood-sacrifice and religion-as-boundary forever.
So, how do we sing this gospel into our lives this weekend?
Bernadette Farrell's "Christ Be Our Light" is not a song I ordinarily use as an entrance or "gathering" song, but it seemed appropriate for todays feast because of the text that suggests the penitential movement from darkness to light, the movement suggested by today's gospel's call (to the crowd and/or to Zacchaeus, depending on your reading) to conversion. It suggests, with the Eucharistic Prayer of Reconciliation, that finding our way to God we might find our way to one another.
Psalm 145 “I Will Praise Your Name” is the psalm of the day. What David’s setting lacks in inspiration and melody (particularly in the verses) it makes up for in accessibility and practicality. The psalm seems to have been chosen as a link between the sentiments in the reading from Wisdom and the gospel, training our ears to listen for words of forgiveness and mercy in the readings and their echoes in our lives. In notes I wrote to myself in previous years, I wished I had opted for Psalm 103, one of the common psalms for Ordinary Time, with its clearer refrain, “The Lord is kind and merciful.” Live and learn: this year, we're singing Jeanne Cotter's lyric setting.
Bernadette Farrell’s gentle and stunning setting of Psalm 139, "O God, You Search Me" is our song during the preparation of the gifts. I don’t know whether any of our homilists will even engage the question of the Greek verbs and offer the interpretation that Zacchaeus, and many of the people that I might accuse of being the cause of my problems and the evil in the world, might in fact be innocent and more personally justified than I am. But the words of this song and the psalm itself offer a prayer of intimacy and an acknowledgment of desperate, naked transparency before God that is only made tolerable by the fact that it is this God who "knows when I sit and when I stand." I can imagine Zacchaeus, or Jesus, or the crowd, or any of us praying those words, and trying to place ourselves where we belong in the cosmos, as creatures, but beloved of God.
Both the communion song, "Come to the Water," and the closing song, Roc O'Connor's "The Saving Power of God," celebrate the invitation to all of humanity to revel in the abundance of God. The Foley song is not typical in form for a communion song at my place, where we usually opt for call-and-response, or at least a song with a short and well-known or easily-remembered refrain. But we have been singing "Come to the Water" for three decades, and people have enough of it in their hearts that the can sing for the walk to the table without a book, so I think in this case we'll be all right. All are called to this meal that is a foreshadowing of the messiah’s banquet in the empire of God. All are indeed welcome to share the breaking of the bread, even those with bad reputations, undocumented aliens and other outsiders, and even tax collectors, traitors, collaborators, and blasphemers. God seems to be so big that you just never know when someone blaspheming against the God you (or I) believe in might actually have a point. We’ll leave that discernment for another day, but keep our ears open for what God’s word might have to say to us this weekend. Father Mark Bartosic, pastor of our sharing parish in Cicero, is preaching at all the masses about our parish's relationship with his, and this seems like an appropriate Sunday for that to happen, when all of us can confess that the Lord can, for some strange reason, be found dining in Barrington and Cicero, right here in our house, the house of a sinner.