Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. - Luke 19:9
I realized yesterday morning that it was the feast day of St. James of Jerusalem, who is the patron saint of our parish. Next year, we will be sure to celebrate James' feast on a Sunday!
He lived so long ago, there is only so much we can know about James. He was thought to have been related to Jesus - perhaps even his own brother or step brother. He became the bishop of Jerusalem and was often called "Old Camel Knees" because he prayed so much that his knees were calloused. His judgement and wisdom, along with his faithfulness earned him the title "James the Just," and this is a wonderful legacy for a parish that claims a ministry of justice.
James also makes an important appearance in the book of Acts, when Paul is visiting Jerusalem to inform the respected elders and apostles there about his travels. I wonder what Paul's listeners thought as he told them that Greeks and other gentiles, people considered 'unclean,' were the ones most enthusiastically joining their new movement. They listen to Paul's testimony, and when he is done, James is the one who speaks up. He says that he has discerned that what Paul has told them is congruent with what he understands in Scripture, and that he has discerned that there is no reason to treat Gentile believers any differently than Jewish ones. Brother Luke Ditewig of SSJE writes that James "is the pivotal figure who leads the early church to affirm huge change, to welcome Gentiles, all people, as equal followers of Jesus. He discerns that the inclusion of outsiders actually fits with the grand narrative promise, that all people may be able to seek God." James' legacy of welcome and inclusion is a particularly relevant and important one in our day and age.
In our gospel for this Sunday, Jesus will once again be rubbing elbows and spending time with people others thought were unclean or undeserving. He even invites himself to dinner at the home of the scorned chief tax collector, Zaccheus. This, like so many of the radical things Jesus did, bent some noses seriously out of shape. Yet Jesus chooses continually to reach out to those on the margins and offer God's love every time, continually challenging our assumptions.
Is there anyone in your life or in the world that you have trouble accepting? Are there those that you may judge to be somehow beneath you in some way? Is there someone in your own life who does not meet your approval and you continually try to change? Or - have you ever been on the other end and felt harshly judged by others? Or felt like an outcast? Or felt shame about being who you are? Our first impressions and biases either way can often be mistaken. How do Jesus, James the Just and little Zaccheus challenge our assumptions about God and about others? Our readings will help us explore that this Sunday and I hope you'll be there.