Ben Hogue

March 16, 2021

Lenten Devotions

Crowded Table

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much. Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

- Luke 19: 1-10

If you grew up as a child in a Christian tradition, chances are you’ve sung the “Zacchaeus song” once or twice. I’m guessing if you’re familiar, you’re singing it right now. These days, whenever I read the account of the interaction between Jesus and Zacchaeus, I hear The Highwomen’s Crowded Table from 2019. (Listen to it if you have a few extra minutes) They sing:

I want a house with a crowded table
And a place by the fire for everyone
Let us take on the world while we’re young and able
And bring us back together when the day is done

Many of us long for crowded tables these days – the ones where you look around and take a snapshot in your mind because you’ve got your people all around you, laughing, breaking bread, enjoying life. I think Jesus longed for crowded tables, as well, and noticed when people were missing, excluded, or lost. As for Zacchaeus? Probably not.

Can you hear the crowd grumbling when Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he’ll be coming over to his house? Jesus simply sees Zacchaeus and his world is transformed! And radically so, because culturally, as a Jewish man, Jesus didn’t get many invitations from a Gentile person, let alone a tax collector. Zacchaeus was operating in a world with power, privilege, and presence and using it to cheat and harm others.

And if we’re honest, I wonder if we might see a bit of ourselves in Zacchaeus. Or at least we might recognize our own power, privilege, and presence.

Yet, something about Jesus looking up in that sycamore tree was enough. I take inspiration from Zacchaeus’ humility to repent, in front of Jesus and the grumbling crowd. He takes a look at himself and though his sins might be much more intentional and explicit than mine, unintentional and implicit sin is still sin. Zacchaeus is still able to share an honest reflection.

To get to this place, I think Zacchaeus must have asked himself some hard questions about his privilege, power, and presence – questions we might ask ourselves.

  • When has my privilege become toxic?

  • How is my presence burdensome?

  • What power do I hold and how can it (or has it) lead to corruption?

  • Can I harness or leverage my power, privilege, or presence to support or uplift another?

  • How can my table become even more crowded? Who is missing, excluded, and lost…and why?

    These questions and answers are deeply personal and extremely difficult. But the season of Lent gives us the opportunity to investigate and interrogate, to self-reflect and confess. This season allows us to acknowledge that death and sin are all around and within us, but they will not have the last word.

As much as I want to hide, I know Jesus will see me perched up in my sycamore tree, going out on a limb to confess and repent, and still pursue a relationship with me. Jesus wants to sit at my crowded table and yours, too.

Because Jesus’ life and ministry weren’t transactional, they were completely relational. He invites us to bring our whole selves, albeit broken, to crowded tables and taste and see that God is so, so good.

As The Highwomen sing, The door is always open / Your picture’s on my wall / Everyone’s a little broken / And everyone belongs / Yeah, everyone belongs

Jesus’ crowded table is where we receive life and love and forgiveness and salvation, together with the entire community of both broken saints and beautiful sinners. We are smooshed together sharing in fellowship and community united with a loving, relational, and abundant God.

Blessings to you this day, beloveds. Jesus sees you this day and is coming to show up to your house for a feast at your crowded table…when it is safe to do so, of course. Amen.

- Rev. Ben Hogue ’10, MDiv ’18

Pastor Ben Hogue  serves Lutheran Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and was Cal Lutheran’s 2020 Outstanding Young Alumni.

Univ Chapel 202021 theme (2)