Have you ever looked for Waldo? If you’re not familiar with Waldo, he’s a character from a children’s book series that is hidden in pictures that are very, very busy. He, of course, is distinct looking, but when hidden among the busyness of the picture, he can be very difficult to locate. And yet, once you find him, it’s almost impossible not to see him.
This week a meme has been circulating featuring a picture of Bernie Sanders at the inauguration. He’s sitting all bundled up in proper winter gear with large handknit mittens to complete his outfit. He wasn’t exactly dressed in the standard winter formal attire that adorned most of the others who surrounded him – which is why we he’s become a meme of course. He’s not what we expected. But I wonder what story different people attach to that image. Bernie’s comments were that he was dressed appropriately for the weather. I’m guessing others might find his clothing choice to be a bit aloof and disrespectful. Others might value his utility and practicality. There are many ways to understand what we see.
This of course has always been true, but as our country has become more divided ideologically it has become more prominent and more hidden at the same time. If you stick with one source of news, you will get one perspective. At some point you may forget that there is in fact a perspective to what you are being told. If you compare multiple sources of news, the impact of differing perspectives becomes quite clear, but then you are left with the dilemma, which one to absorb and believe. And to complicate things even further, because there are so many sources of news covering so much of what we experience, I wonder how many of us stop making sense of our own experiences and just let others explain them to us.
Often, when we read the story of Zacchaeus, we are drawn to what appears to be his repentance and conversion. He sees Jesus and announces that he gives half of his income to the poor and pays four times the damages if he’s caught cheating. You could look at that story and say, because Zacchaeus saw Jesus he was changed. But some of the commentaries on this passage suggest another way of looking at it. What if Jesus saw Zacchaeus and knew that he was already giving away his income and making restitution for cheating. What if instead of trying to “convert” Zacchaeus, Jesus was actually trying to shatter other’s judgments of Zacchaeus?
As Seth mentioned, Zacchaeus is not a popular guy. He is the chief tax collector – despised by his fellow Jews. He is described as being short or wee, which was not just descriptive of his physical stature but would have also been understood as a description of his moral character. Those around him thought of him as morally corrupt.
So imagine – here’s this despised, morally corrupt, tax collector who’s climbed up in a tree in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus because seemingly the crowd is so dense, he can’t make his way to the front to see Jesus as he walks through town. So all these people have come – and when Jesus appears the one person he interacts with is the person that the rest of the people dislike the most. I think if that were me in the crowd, I would have been angry. Likely, I wouldn’t have even noticed Zacchaeus up in the tree before Jesus calls him down – but after that I wouldn’t have been able to take my eyes off of him. And yet, I’m guessing at that moment, I would have failed to see Zacchaeus.
Because here’s what happens. Zacchaeus publicly declares actions that show a faithfulness to Jesus and then Jesus declares that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham, that salvation has come to his household. David Lose has this to say about that part of the passage:
[Jesus] merely pronounces blessing, blessing based not on anything Zacchaeus has done but simply because he, like those grumbling around him, is an Israelite, a son of Abraham. Further, Zacchaeus does not offer his financial disclosure in response to anything Jesus has said; rather, it falls on the heels of the grumbling of the crowd.
He goes on to say this:
…by seeing [Zacchaeus], calling him, staying with him, and blessing him, Jesus declares for all to hear that this one, even this chief tax collector, is a child of Abraham…and child of God. Perhaps Jesus is again at work seeking out those who are lost (whether through their own actions or those around them) in order to find, save, and restore them.
I love this last part of Lose’s commentary, “Perhaps Jesus is again at work seeking out those who are lost (whether through their own actions or those around them) in order to fine, save and restore them.” Lose is reminding us that those of us who are not on the margins often exercise our power in ways that creates the margins. The stories we tell ourselves when we see something matter. They can dictate marginalization.
So, for me, this story challenges us to see beyond what we’ve been taught to see. We find Waldo in the pictures because we know what we are looking for – we know what we’re supposed to see. But I wonder – what happens if you look at a where’s Waldo picture and instead of looking for Waldo, note all of the other things that you see. Who’s in the picture? What’s their story? And how might their story and Waldo’s story be different from what we imagine? How do we open ourselves up to new understandings?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do believe it starts with the foundational understanding that we are children of Abraham, we are all beloved children of God. What if, every time you saw someone, you greeted them in your head by saying, hello, beloved child of God? My hope is that this simple practice could change us, open our imagination, and allow us to see in a way we’ve not seen before.
At this time in history the United States is polarized and our relationships with one another are broken. I don’t know if we can be repaired as a country, but I do know that each of us has the power to repair ourselves and the way we relate to others and I pray that we are brave enough to look for what we’ve not seen before. May God bless us on this journey.