22nd November 2019
This week it’s graduation time. As chaplains we have the interesting job of accompanying the honorary award recipients. Yesterday we were with a particularly impressive man called Mark Fosbrook.
Mark has had a very successful sporting career as a Paralympian and disabled athlete. He told the graduating students yesterday about an early experience. Having be born without feet or ankles, and with only two fingers on each hand, he was still determined to get involved in sport. He put himself down for the volleyball trials, but when he looked all the way down the list of names, he was not anywhere on it.
In the end that made him even more determined, and he has now represented his country at standing volleyball and wheelchair basketball. Mark told me about the times he has gone on tour with his team, all with serious disabilities – and been sized up by local able bodied volleyball teams they were about to play – who were then very surprised to find themselves being well beaten.
Mark was seen by the teacher choosing the team at school as being ruled out by his disability. Sometimes others still judge him that way. But his strength of character, resilience, and athletic ability tell a different story. He was by far the most inspirational speaker yesterday, watched by his wife and two children, one with the same disability.
Mark now works across the West Midlands for an organisation which helps people with disabilities and long term illness to get active. It’s an area in which he is supremely qualified. I thought about Mark when I was reflecting on our reading today.
Jesus went on into Jericho and was passing through. There was a chief tax collector there named Zacchaeus, who was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but he was a little man and could not see Jesus because of the crowd. So he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus, who was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to that place, he looked up and said to Zacchaeus, “Hurry down, Zacchaeus, because I must stay in your house today.”
Zacchaeus hurried down and welcomed him with great joy. All the people who saw it started grumbling, “This man has gone as a guest to the home of a sinner!”
Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Listen, sir! I will give half my belongings to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times as much.”
Jesus said to him, “Salvation has come to this house today, for this man, also, is a descendant of Abraham. The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Zacchaeus was clearly ruled out by most people from being associated with Jesus. He had stepped away from the community of God’s faithful people to be in league with the hated Romans. He had become a chief tax collector. He was rich – he had clearly taken not only the cut of taxes that he needed to live on, but a good deal more. No wonder that people called him a sinner, and looked down on him in every sense.
So when Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, the crowd closed him out. But he said goodbye to his dignity and climbed a tree, and then something surprising happened.
First of all, Jesus knew his name. He had already, it seems, taken an interest in this man. And then Jesus invited himself to his home – choosing to eat with him, rather than the leading religious men of the town. And when Zacchaeus emerged to tell everyone about his change of heart, Jesus declared that salvation has come to his house.
Zacchaeus had no qualifications when it comes to holiness, or religious observance, or lifestyle. But he had other qualifications which perhaps led him to being chosen by Jesus. The first of these is that he was lost – one of the ones that Jesus came to seek and to save. The second is that he was, it seems, curious and open minded – he wanted to see Jesus. And the third is that he was – it turned out – at least to some extent, open hearted. When Jesus invited himself, Zacchaeus hurried down to welcome him – and he seems ready to respond to this sudden and unexpected acceptance.
When I think about what qualifies me to be here as a chaplain, I’m pretty sure that my main qualification is my own past experience of weakness – as I student I knew huge value of the love and acceptance I found, because that hadn’t often been my experience at school. We may think that our qualifications for being chosen and used by God are our strengths and our gifts – but perhaps these are less important than our weaknesses and our sense of need – and out or these, an open heartedness which welcomes God in to our lives, and allows him to turn them upside down.
We thank you Lord, that you know our names – you have called out to us – you invite yourself into our lives, and you bring us the gift of grace and salvation which changes everything. May we learn to be more and more open hearted – to you, and to others…
We pray for those graduating this week – those feeling a great sense of achievement – and those now struggling to find the way forward. We think of those we know… May they hear your call, and allow you to lead them…
And we pray for those who feel that they have no qualifications – who feel that they cannot achieve what they long for. May they know that they are precious in your eyes. May they discover in their need, their greatest gift…