A couple of weeks ago I attended one of Edward’s recreational programs called Friendship. It’s hosted at a local church and staffed by a group of humble, loving, and deeply commited folks who know the meaning of life. My hope was to drop Edward off and head out to a coffee shop for some reading, but I ended up having to stay, which ended up more than okay.
After the opening welcome and some robust group singing we headed off for our small group bible study. Whenever Edward comes home from Friendship he always has an animated bible story coloring page in hand. So I knew what to expect from this next part of the program.
Only what played out was so much more.
I heard from the teacher afterward that when she was practicing her dramatized bible story earlier that evening (with a big hand puppet playing one part of the narrative) a young disabled man walked into the room and immediately took up the ‘Jesus’ role in the narrative. He knew the story well and was clearly a bit of actor. And so, without hesitation, the teacher invited the young man to play the Jesus part when she would later tell the story (without a rehearsal!).
So there we sat, about to hear the story of Zacchaeus first meeting Jesus. By this point the young actor had found a suitable Jesus-robe to wear and the teacher had hoisted the Zacchaeus puppet up into a fake tree. And then she started into the story, “Zacchaeus was a very rich tax collector who stole money from a lot of people… he desperately wanted to see Jesus, but because he was so short he had to climb a tree to get a glance… when Jesus came to the tree he looked up and said…” Then the young jumped in, right on cue, and shouted, “Zacchaeus come down!”.
Now according to the gospel account, Jesus then invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner, where Zacchaeus then confesses to all of his treachery and offers to make things right causing Jesus to say, “Today salvation has come to this home…” (Luke 19;9, NIV). But in the FDV (Friendship Dramatized Version) the story moved more quickly. No sooner had the puppet Zacchaeus come down out of that fake tree, then Jesus walked right up to him, looked him full in the face, and said, “I forgive you Zacchaeus… (PAUSE FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT)… I love you!”
It was the added ‘I love you’ that undid me. So genuine, spontaneous and second nature. So heart felt and beautiful. It made me think about how natural it must have been for Jesus to love others and forgive them. And how his love freed people to be their true selves – an ancient Palestinian tax collector, a disabled young man with no inhibitions, a Christ-imaging teacher who’ll invite anyone to play a part (even the unpracticed), and 53 year old preacher with so much yet to learn.
And I think that that retelling of the Zacchaeus story was the most beautiful sermon I’ve ever heard or seen.