Craning and Straining

Apr 2, 2017, Author: Rev. Ann M. Aaberg

Scripture – Luke 18:31-19:10 – Fifth Sunday in Lent – April 2, 2017

My hunch is that 35 years ago, not nearly as much was known about infant and child development as is known today; either that or I was just so busy caring for my own infant that the details never dawned. So one of the many gifts of having grandchildren is that you can pay better attention and their mothers today know a heck of a lot more than I ever did.
For instance: I noticed a couple of weeks ago that our then 7-month-old granddaughter had developed a new behavior. Her mother was standing, holding her, facing me and Baby H heard a sound coming from behind me. She craned her neck to see around and beyond me and, while I’m thinking she’s just becoming more aware, her mother explained that baby had now reached the point in her infant development that she now knew there were objects behind the one she was facing and seeing. No longer stuck in the stage of seeing and comprehending only what’s in front of her, now Baby H can anticipate something more. There might be something behind Nana and I kinda think there is because I can hear it. And I’m not going to quit craning my neck until it surfaces. And of course, the look of curiosity and anticipation on her little face is like an open book.

In all three sections of our passage from the Gospel of Luke this morning, there is anticipation and curiosity and objects in the way and a good deal of craning and straining to see and connect with Jesus. We begin with much anticipation on the part of Jesus as he takes his disciples aside to tell them that everything that has been written about the Son of Man is about to be accomplished in Jerusalem. But it appears that the disciples have not yet developed enough to sense and see anywhere beyond the Jesus now standing in front of them. Scripture says, “But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”

The begging blind man sitting by the roadside on the way to Jericho, cannot physically see, but his hearing is acute and his sensibilities are sharp, and we can imagine his neck stretched out, competing with the crushing crowd, shouting literally at the top of his lungs, straining from his seated, begging position to be seen and heard by Jesus as he passes by. All motivated by his desire to be able to see the reality beyond his wildest dreams. “Lord, let me see again.”

And any one of us who has ever tried to see over the heads in front of us – theatres, concert halls, parades – can identify with Zacchaeus and his craning and straining until he finally lands on the idea to climb up a tree to give himself a birds-eye view. The sound of the crowd, the brushing past of fast-moving bodies, the reputation of the remarkable healer from Nazareth, the rumors of his being the Messiah come to save them from Rome, all combined to fuel the desire of the blind man and the anticipation and curiosity of Zacchaeus.

So we can imagine the jackpot of joy on the part of them both when Jesus stops and personally addresses and heals them both: one of his physical infirmity, the other of his grasping greed. Both having been craning and straining, trying to see Jesus that Jesus might see them.

Yet we are reminded again of the good news at the end of the passage that Jesus had been looking for them. It closes with “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Leaving the 99 sheep to scout out the one who wandered off, sweeping and scouring to find the one coin, running out towards the bedraggled, penitent son finally coming home, stopping and looking up at the little man who had scrambled up a tree, a tax collector reviled by his neighbors, exploited by the government, encountering nothing but elbows purposely blocking his way. “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

Neither from her perch in her mother’s arms nor from the vantage point of the floor surrounded by her toys can Baby H see her front door; yet, each time she hears it open, her neck stretches, her eyes widen and her little body stops all activity. From the floor she cranes to see around the couch; if she’s on my lap she strains to see above my shoulder and, when her Daddy finally appears at the top of the stairs, there is no containing her glee, her legs buck, her bottom bounces….because Daddy is already looking for her. He comes around the corner and stops and their eyes meet and their arms mutually extend out towards each other – a jackpot of joy!

The gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not. On account of the crowd, on account of our schedules, on account of the political landscape, on account of our preoccupations with everything else but, it can be pretty hard to see Jesus these days. We may even have given up hoping for a glimpse. But today’s passage tells us to try: to shout louder, run ahead, climb up a tree, tell him what you desire, tell him what you’re prepared to do, crane your neck and strain your muscles, because, my friends, he’s looking for us, too. Jesus wants to go to your house today.

Except for the babies among us this morning, we have all developed enough – physically, mentally and spiritually – to know that there is more beyond what we can see right in front of us. On the other side of whatever is blocking our vision, be it problems at work, frustrations at school, lingering illness, anxiety, fear, whatever it is, on the other side is a loving Father God, a nurturing Mother God, looking to meet our eyes and share in the jackpot of joyous connection. May we all take on a child-like spirit of curiosity and anticipation and crane our necks toward our loving God. And when we connect, may we be filled with uncontainable glee! Amen.