Boudreaux and Pierre have been friends for life and are standing in the airport looking over the airplane they are about to board to take their first flight ever to start a vacation they’ve been planning for a few years. As the four big engines begin to rev up, they board. The plane takes off and a little while passes and the captain comes on the intercom and says the flight will take 30 minutes longer because one of the engines blew, but not to worry, it can still fly with just three engines. Some more time passes and the captain comes on the intercom again and says that another engine has blown and it will take an hour longer to get to their destination, but again, not to worry. A little while later the captain comes on the intercom one more time and says there will be an additional half an hour delay because the third engine has broken down. Boudreaux leans over to Pierre and says, “Pierre, my friend, if that fourth engine blows, we gonna be stuck up here all day.”
Boudreaux is not the sharpest pencil in the drawer, but let’s assume the laws of physics work the way he’s got it figured. Say the fourth engine blows and they are stuck and they’re going to wait at least a few hours to get things going again. How bad is it? Yes, you’re on an airplane and the seats don’t give you much leg room. It is going to take a bit longer to get to your destination and you might even miss your dinner reservation. In a similar situation, we would likely be upset. Angry at the airlines, short tempered with the stewardess, and cranky with our traveling companion. Yet, in the midst of all this frustration, we never stop to consider that we have just been given a gift, a few hours with a life long friend to just sit and visit. Share a few memories. Or if we were alone we would probably never even consider leaning over the aisle and striking up a conversation with that “stranger,” that gift next to us. And heaven forbid that we should be provided with a golden opportunity to just sit quietly or – and I confess, this sounds really good on occasion – to take a nap. Nope. We see the delay as an infuriating inconvenience and a personal attack on our happiness. We see the time as being a complete waste and the memory of it will sour all of our future plans.
Zaccheus was a wee, little man, And a wee, little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree, For the Lord he wanted to see.
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.”
At the time of Jesus, Jericho was a significant city. As the Scripture said Zacchaeus lived there, was a tax collector, and was rich, therefore, Zacchaeus was a busy little man in a busy little city. And into his busy little life comes Jesus. There is a moment when he thinks he would like to stop and see this Jesus, yet Zacchaeus is on his way to pay a visit to certain wealthy merchant who owes big. So instead, Zacchaeus pushes his way through the crowded street, grumbling over the rabble that are in his way, and angry at this itinerant preacher for the inconvenience he is causing. Finally making his way through the crowd he finds the wealthy merchant and begins haranguing him for an extra one percent, because Zacchaeus just bought a winter home down in the Sinai that needs a new roof. Meanwhile, Jesus passes on through to Jerusalem and salvation never comes to that wee little man, and he dies wealthy in his winter home, but alone and hated by all. There was a moment when life could have changed so dramatically for him, but he was so worried about everything else, that he missed it all together.
A moment changes everything, but unless you are willing to allow it to change you, to change the course of your life, then it is nothing more than a bit of smoke on a breeze. We most likely miss those times, those moments, not by intentionally brushing them away, but by being so trapped in the past or worried by the future, that we don’t even see them.
Blaise Pascal writes, “Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so.” Why do we not live in the present? Pascal answers: “The present is generally painful to us. We conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and if it be delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away.”
We are nearing the end of the church year, which means we will begin the Season of Advent soon. That is the season when we consider Jesus’ first coming – the past – and when we look ahead to the future, anticipating his second coming. It seems that we as a Christian people are falling into Pascals’ mistake, being occupied with the past and the future and completely disregarding the present. However, that is not the message of Jesus. A few chapters before our Gospel reading today, we read of an encounter Jesus had with the Pharisees: “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you… the kingdom of God is within you.’” What does that mean? Jesus came once and he will come again, but “the kingdom of God is among you” clearly says that kingdom of God is now, in this very moment. Jesus ushered it in at his first coming and he will bring it to its eternal and glorious fruition when he comes again, but it is also now. Jesus said, “I am with you always – I am with you now! – even to the end of the age.”
Yes, I do know that sometimes the present moment stinks, it can be painful and full of trials, but I also know that God is present even then and that those times contain something good.
A university professor tells of being invited to speak at a military base in the month of December and while there meeting an unforgettable soldier named Ralph. Ralph had been sent to meet him at the airport; and after they had introduced themselves, they headed toward the baggage claim. As they walked down the concourse, Ralph kept disappearing — once to help an older woman whose suitcase had fallen open, once to lift two toddlers up to where they could see Santa Claus, and again to give directions to someone who was lost. Each time he came back with a big smile on his face. “Where did you learn to do that?” The professor asked. “Do what?” Ralph responded. “To be so helpful and considerate to others.” “Oh,” Ralph said, “during the war, I guess.” Then he told the professor about his tour of duty in Vietnam, about how it was his job to clear minefields, and how he watched his friends blow up before his eyes, one after another. “I learned to live between steps,” he said. “I never knew whether the next one would be my last, so I learned to get everything I could out of the moment between when I picked up my foot and when I put it down again. Every step I took was a whole new world, and I guess I’ve just been that way ever since.” A grace-filled life is living between the steps. It understands the remarkable gift of now.
The Kingdom of God is now. Jesus is coming your way, he may even be sitting in the pew across from you, or be your waiter at lunch. It is possible, that you will see him in the face of an enemy or a stranger. In all of these instances, it is as though Jesus were saying to Zacchaeus, “Hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” Live between the steps and recognize the gifts and the blessings of God that right here, and be happy to welcome Jesus into your life in all the many forms that he makes his presence known in each and every moment.
Let us pray:
Most Loving Father, we spend so much time reliving yesterday
or anticipating tomorrow
that we lose sight of the only time that is really ours,
the present moment.
You give today one moment at a time.
That is all we have,
all we ever will have.
Give us the faith which knows that each moment
contains exactly what is best for us.
Give us the hope which trusts You enough
to forget past failings and future trials.
Give us the love which makes each moment
an anticipation of eternity with You.
We ask this in the name of Jesus
Who is the same yesterday, today and forever.