Choosing Welcome

Story 7: Hospitality at Zacchaeus’ House

In this series, Every Meal is a Story, we are looking at stories in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus breaks bread with all sorts of folks where they live in order to teach simple truth. In stories 4-7 Jesus addresses the tension between faith and culture by challenging his followers to listen and learn from him. Jesus is not interested in self-righteous religion that leads to pride and judgment, but demands holiness and humility and welcome.

Read Luke 19:1-10.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

For several years I made chai tea for a student study break on the university campus so we could hang out with international friends.  Some great cross-cultural friendships were made, but with exams and busy schedules it was often a short visit. As my chai making reputation grew, Anika asked if we could get together for chai after finals.  “Why don’t we meet at your place,” I asked. So she invited me to her apartment and made chai and snacks for me.  Soon her roommates arrived and we all talked for a couple of hours around the table.  It was relaxed, open, and home.

In this familiar Gospel story, Jesus spots Zacchaeus in the tree and calls out to him, acknowledging the incredible effort he took to be seen. Climbing a tree was hardly a dignified way for a rich man in robes to meet a traveling rabbi, but he is rewarded when Jesus invites himself home saying emphatically, “I must stay at your house.”  

As Jesus accepted welcome and hospitality, then Zacchaeus, in the comfort of his own home, was able to tell his story. In the forgiving presence of Jesus and all the people there that day, Zacchaeus makes restoration to those he has cheated and gives half his possessions to those in need. Jesus announces to all, “Today salvation has come to this house.” And for the skeptics who grumbled over Jesus’ choice to eat with an outsider, he adds, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Welcoming Jesus as a guest at your table brings both justice and salvation home.

Imagine. Put yourself in the scene as Zacchaeus. As Jesus picks you out of the crowd to spend time with at your house, what comes up in your thoughts about your home life or relationships? Is there anything you need to make right?

Zacchaeus is an example of a “Person of Peace” or someone who welcomes both you and the message of Jesus into their lives. They are influencers and open networks of relationship in their community.  Zacchaeus was a bridge of connection for Jesus, allowing his message to be personal and accessible to family and friends at home.  For me, Anika was a person of peace, inviting me into her community of friends. To be open to a person of peace, we may have to let go of the idea of inviting and serving and allow others to tell their story in the comfort of their own home.

Reflect. It’s easy to get comfortable talking with people we already know. Is there a person of peace (Zacchaeus) around trying to get your attention? Think through the advantages of being at home in their family and community so you can communicate that they are seen and heard and valued.

Practice. If you can’t be present at someone’s home, look for a neutral place to meet cross cultural friends called a “third place,” such as a coffee shop, or ethnic restaurant. Try learning how to make food or drink that would make someone feel at home. 

Practices to fully see, hear and value others:

  • Be fully present! Practice not picking up your cell phone when talking or eating with others.
  • Listen! Practice listening by not replying with your own stuff or trying to fix them.
  • Create Welcome. Music, good food, clutter-free space, generosity.
  • Be Loving. Use familial terms or nick names, show authentic interest with gifts of time, kindness, and genuine words of affirmation.

Welcoming Prayer. Try sitting with this prayer practice of welcoming Jesus into every part of your life by letting go of my need to be safe, liked, and in control.

Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today, because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval, and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen. Thomas Keating.

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