On Nov. 9, we are all Zacchaeus

Zacchaeus in the Sycamore awaiting the Passage of Jesus.

(RNS) As a nation, we have spent the better part of two years focused on what will happen when Americans cast their votes on Tuesday (Nov. 8). From what I have seen, little consideration has been given to what will happen after.

The results of Election Day are not an end; they are the beginning of a new path. Sadly, the divisions that have developed between different parts of our community make it difficult to see how we walk down that path together.

Last Sunday, many of the churches across our nation read the story of Zacchaeus, the despised tax collector who was short of both stature and good character and who climbed a sycamore tree to get a better view of Jesus. His story offers some hope that we can heal the divides the election has created.

Zacchaeus was loathed by his own people. He collected taxes to support the hated Roman occupation of Jerusalem and Israel. In the process, Zacchaeus made himself rich by collecting more taxes than was necessary and lining his own pockets in the process.

To put it one way, Zacchaeus was loathed for being on the wrong side of politics. In today’s campaign, he might be seen as a deplorable, or face calls to “lock him up.”

However, when Zacchaeus climbs that sycamore tree, Jesus sees him and he loves him. Jesus sees beyond Zacchaeus’ despised politics of collaboration and personal gain. He sees beyond Zacchaeus’ identity as a thief and traitor. Instead, Jesus sees a man who is more than these identities, a man who was in need of forgiveness, understanding and reconciliation.

On the day after this election, we are all Zacchaeus standing at the foot of that tree. I expect that each of us can look at actions we have taken during this election season and find times when we helped to sow the seeds of division.

The question for us now — regardless of who wins on Tuesday — is are we bold enough to climb above the crowd and look beyond the stark rhetoric and unbending ideologies that dominate our political landscape?

Can we rise above our own self-image, our own personal narratives, in order to better understand each other and our lives together?

Are we willing to see those we disagree with in new ways, in ways that make new life and new relationships possible?

In short, how can we be a non-anxious presence in our very anxious world?

Our culture is caught up in a dysfunctional cycle of tearing down. We demonize one another, and too many of us are so locked into our own worldview that we cannot actually hear what the other person is saying.

We confirm and reinforce our own favored narratives by only visiting certain websites or favored cable channels or seeking shelter among self-selected “friends” on social media.

So many of us are so locked into our own narrative about the nation or this election that we have lost the capacity to be empathetic. After all, it is impossible to be empathetic when you are always right and the other is always wrong.

Sequestered among the like-minded in our ideological echo chambers, we barely encounter one another. We are not stretched or challenged by the experience of those who are different from us. When we do engage with others, too often the discourse is vulgar or even violent.

Like Zacchaeus, we now need to pull ourselves up the sycamore tree of our civic life, above the noise of our crowd and our own point of view, to actually see and hear one another beyond the labels and the stereotypes.

We must see Zacchaeus as Jesus did — someone looking for something more, someone worthy of our love and respect. While Zacchaeus is best known for climbing into the tree, what happened next is just as important: Jesus and Zacchaeus dined together. They talked and listened to each other, even as the crowds jeered. In short, they opened themselves to each other.

Opening ourselves to those with whom we agree, or who look like us, or vote like us — that’s easy stuff. The harder, but more rewarding work is bridging the gaps between us as citizens, as neighbors, as nations. It calls us to places of discomfort and perhaps even anxiety; yet, like Zacchaeus after his encounter with Jesus, we emerge different on the other side.

On Tuesday, the campaign ends and the votes are counted. On Wednesday, we begin the harder work of healing and reconciliation. To borrow from both campaigns, we will make America great again by being stronger together. It’s time, for all of us, to climb up that tree, set our sights on something greater, and then come back down and make it happen.

 (The Very Rev. Randy Hollerith is the dean of Washington National Cathedral)


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Randy Hollerith


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  • Zaccheus did not pull himself up in the tree to here what others had to say, whether they were Democrats or Republicans; these had too much verbal dysentery ; He pulled himself up to see and hear Jesus. Ain’t that something

  • No intent to quibble with the basic premise of the article, but I would make a slight defense of Zacchaeus to the extent that under Roman Law, the tax collector received no remuneration for his services. The only way Zacchaeus could derive an income from his services was to tack on an additional “tax” for his own benefit. No one would argue with this under normal circumstances and with an eye to a reasonable “return,” but as Zacchaeus confessed himself, he had been excessive in his collections to his own profit. He is to be applauded for recognizing his failure and committing to make restitution as a result of his meeting with Jesus, which speaks to the persuasiveness of the Lord, and His ability to turn souls completely around.

  • Well done, Rev. Randy Hollerith. It is critical that we reconcile with one another. Time for the pain of loss and fear to heal is first, followed by what you’ve written so well.

    I have a strong aversion to the president- elect and nearly all of his positions. Nonetheless, he will soon be my president because he won more than 270 electoral votes. That’s how American elections work. I think it’s a poor system, but it’s what we have. I will do what I can, short of compromising my principles, to help him succeed.

    I will do that because I am an American and do love my country. I will not try to sabotage him as republicans relentlessly did to President Obama and I will urge my Washington representatives not to. I will not put my personal agenda ahead of what is best for the country.

    I want America to succeed more than I want to get my way. I want America to be big, strong, open, kind and lead the world in the best way for each individual. I do not want an America shriveled, frightened, and closed to the world. I will support the president- elect whenever I can.

  • This is a well written article and probably won’t be read by a number of persons that need to be reached. One comment that I make is American never Lost its Greatness, but what will happen next?
    Now isn’t that food for thought.