Have you ever had a eureka moment? A moment where something foggy suddenly becomes clear and you can see it, as if for the first time? I had a moment like that at bible study this week, while we were discussing this morning’s gospel reading so, apologies to you who were there, but you have to hear it again.
In my first week at theological college we had a lecture with the college principal; a wise old owl of a man – Fr Peter; a man who spoke in a gentle, slow and measured way and could wither you with a look. This aging saint had spent more than 50 years in the monastery where I trained and he dripped pearls of wisdom wherever he went. And he was a fabulous story-teller.
In that first week, he recounted a tale found in the 1975 Pulitzer Prize Winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. (I’ve since read the book and, if I may dare to say, Fr Peter’s retelling was even better than the original). This book tells the true story of a woman who encounters a floating muskrat, basking in the moonlight at her local creek. So entranced was she by this muskrat; so enamoured by the detail of his eyelashes and the way the light shone off his silky wet belly that she returned day after day, week after week, season after season, hoping beyond all hope that she might again see mister muskrat. And she never did.
The point was, the fact she glimpsed this beauty once was enough to make her return, over and over. And, Fr Peter said, that was what brought us to this place, to that college, to respond to the call of God in saying yes to ordination. He said that at one point we’d glimpsed the beauty of God and kept on returning, over and over and that one glimpse might have to be enough, because we might never see God again but we must keep showing up, just in case.
Something inside me broke and, forgetting myself, I threw my hand in the air and said ‘but that suggests God isn’t also seeking us out. That suggests God isn’t relentlessly pursuing us because God wants to see us too!’ And Fr Peter turned to me and said ‘is that what you think? That’s nice…’
And I thought I must have got it wrong because he was wiser and more devoted and more dedicated to God than I was, than I am. He had given up everything and committed every second of every day for many decades to prayer and bible study and silence and listening. Maybe God wasn’t relentlessly pursuing me after all. I must have it wrong. Right?
But then, this week, we meet Zacchaeus – ‘he was a chief tax collector and was rich’. And he was trying to see who Jesus was but he couldn’t, because he was ‘short in stature’. So this little man ran ahead and climbed a tree, knowing Jesus was going to pass that way. And then Jesus comes along and he doesn’t pass by at all. He doesn’t pass Zacchaeus by. He absolutely relentlessly pursues him! And when he finds him, he stops.
Zacchaeus was looking for Jesus and – would you look at that – Jesus was looking for Zacchaeus too! ‘When Jesus came to that place he looked up and said Zacchaeus! Hurry down because I must stay at your house today’.
And people didn’t like it, of course – ‘all who saw it began to grumble because Jesus was the guest of a sinner’ – but Zacchaeus didn’t care – he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.
Zacchaeus knew what his reputation was. He knew what everyone thought of him. But he also knew he wanted to see Jesus. I wonder if he also knew Jesus wanted to see him too? I wonder if he even dared to believe that was possible? Hurry and come down, Jesus said; I’m coming to your house today. And Zacchaeus was happy to welcome him.
And what about us? We come here, week after week, because something inside us is looking for Jesus, something within us wants to see something of the Divine – whether we know it or not, something inside us is seeking for something bigger – for God. And every single week, God passes this way. And every single week – every single minute of every single day actually – God is seeking us out. Even if we’re hiding. Especially if we’re hiding.
Zacchaeus was up a tree, but it didn’t stop him from being seen and found, because Jesus seeks out everyone, wherever they are; Jesus seeks out and saves the lost. So it doesn’t matter where we are hiding or where we have been. It doesn’t even matter where we are going – Jesus will pass that way too.
On our best days we are looking for the Divine. On our best days we notice him in creation. We hear her in the ocean. We see them in the sunset. On our best days we really still ourselves and maybe even utter some words to heaven. On our best days we do a lot of seeking, but even on our worst days God is still seeking after us.
So Fr Peter was wrong! We don’t have to keep returning to that proverbial riverbank in the vain hope of spotting the moonlit muskrat…and constantly risk being disappointed. God is seeking us out and will never stop.
God will delve into our guilt and shame and find us hiding there. She will find us on the mountaintop of happiness and the pit of despair and everywhere in between, and will always greet us with the same divine welcome; hurry up! I choose you! I’m coming to your house today and when we, like Zacchaeus, hurry happily from where we are and fall into step beside Jesus then salvation comes to our house too.
God is seeking you out. Will you let yourself be found? Amen.
 She did, actually, but Fr Peter’s retelling was that she didn’t…and that was essential to the point he was making…so he didn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story…
Brilliant as usual, hope you’re OK and staying safe xx