Saturday, October 30, 2010

Avatar Up A Tree

In last year’s Sci-Fi hit Avatar, Sam Worthington plays a paraplegic marine, Jake Sully whose DNA match to his deceased twin brother gets him an unexpected shot at a completely new life. Technology has advanced to the point where earthlings can have their consciousness “transported” into the bodies of turquoise beings the size of poplar trees. Jake’s new life just begins with his newfound strength and agility. His ‘avatar’ gives him not only new height, but eventually, a new depth. One skill that serves as a turning point is what he learns through his relationship with his mentor and constant companion Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana. Neytiri helps Jake see, to borrow a phrase from Gerard Manley Hopkins, “the dearest freshness, deep-down things.” Jake finds that when he allows himself to “see” as do the Na’vi, his life changes. For the Na’vi “to see” is the same as “to love”. For Jake, now being seen and able to see, he is at home.

Seeing, the kind that Zacchaeus goes to great lengths to do in this Sunday’s gospel, is more than the furtive glance of the curious. In verse 4 we read: “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore tree to see
him, because he was going to pass that way.” Zacchaeus needs to see. The English “see” is a rendering of the Greek word for “seeking” or “desire”/ “longing” (ξητέω). It is also used in conjunction with the “Worship of God”

Zacchaeus was more than a short guy with a big income and few friends, he “longed” for something more. Is this what Jesus was able to see – beyond a chief tax-collector (i.e. sinner); behind the camouflage of the tree branches and the opinions of the crowd? This is the kind of view the Gospel encourages in those longing to see. Perhaps Zacchaeus could no longer find all his satisfaction in his material wealth?

There is nothing in the Scripture to suggest that the “Publican” that we heard about in last Sunday’s Gospel and Zacchaeus are one and the same. However, the fact that we hear these stories on successive Sunday’s would lead us to link them. Both are ”Publicans”, which at that time was synonymous with “sinner”. The Pharisee who did not go home from the Temple “justified” refers to the guy in the back row as a “tax-collector”, he is grouped with the “adulterous” and “prostitutes”. Current public opinion would have considered Zacchaeus as just one more of “Those people…”.

We know that Jesus says that the repentant Publican “went home justified”. He “made things right”! His act of piety was born out in today’s reading when, after Jesus comes into his home, Zacchaeus stands up and not only makes restitution for his crime and sins, he “pays back four-fold”. Had a judge found him guilty and demanded the restitution prescribed for thieves, that would have been considered just punishment. However, without judge and jury to convict him, Zacchaeus engages in an act of generosity. He willingly, “open handedly gives some of his bread to the poor” as Proverbs 22:9 says.

Zacchaeus is made right before God and the people and his generosity demonstrates what made the Publican’s prayer in the Temple so authentic. True piety results in making things right and not in self-congratulatory speeches. God sees us and knows our hearts. Having been seen by God, we know that we are loved and are better able to see ourselves and others in a new way. “Jake Sully’s” avatar discovered this new vision. So did Zacchaeus. The same is true for us. Are we too longing to see Jesus? Carl,TOR