There is a song by Billy Joel; called Piano Man. It is about Joel’s early life when he used to play the piano in a bar. Every night he would sing songs for the customers and in piano man, he tells their stories. He tells about the waitress who is practicing politics. And he tells about Joe who plays amateur psychologist.
Then he tells one more story about the man who comes to him and says, “Son, can you play me a melody?” I am not really sure how it goes, but it is sad and it is sweet and it sounded complete. “When I wore a younger man’s clothes.” We can picture the man; he is in his fifties, an old worn suit. His life has not turned out like he had thought, like he had hoped, like he had dreamed. Every night he comes into the bar and he gulps a few to take the edge off the day and the hushed conversation keeps the loneliness from creeping in.
And the soft lights and dark walls protect him from the sunshine outside. The mirror over the bar reminds him he is not the man he used to be. The man he should have been, the man his parents prayed he would become. And he sits listening to the piano man and he is saying to himself that he once knew himself because he knew the melody of his life.
And then he somehow forgot that tune, and now he needs someone to help him remember that song. Son, can you play me a melody? I am not really sure how it goes. But it is sad and it is sweet and it sounded complete when I wore a younger man’s clothes. We have a man like this in our gospel, Zacchaeus, the tax collector. Don’t think IRS, here think Mafia or drug dealers. He was seen as a traitor and collaborator with the occupying power; he was cut off from his own people.
As the man in the song goes to the piano man, so Zacchaeus goes to try and see Jesus. By climbing a tree, he communicated to Jesus his need, his search, his emptiness. So he climbs a tree, if he cannot speak to Jesus, at least he will see him. Then Jesus surprises everyone, he stops and speaks to Zacchaeus, the sinner and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house. Then the tongues start to wag, “Doesn’t he know who this man is? What he is?”
Then Jesus says he has come to find that which was lost. Lost in the Bible does not mean to be damned or be beyond salvation. It means, quite literally, to be in the wrong place, to be somewhere you should not be.
Look to our own lives, yours and mine, our hearts are often in the wrong place. Wanting this or that, indulging in resentment or wallowing in self-pity. And our minds are in the wrong place.
Filled with Technicolor, wandering and fantasies or X-rated thoughts. Also, our affections are in the wrong place, fixated on the wrong ambitions on the wrong people. Our bodies are often lost in the wrong place. Here when they should be there, pampered when they should be stretched. Allowed to wait around when they should be waiting on others. Sometimes, parts of us, sometimes the whole of us-mind, heart, body, emotions-get lost.
Because our priorities are wrong, so how do we put things right? Most of the time from this pulpit I talk about our need for faith in Christ. But, today we are coming at that thought from the opposite direction. I am talking about his faith in us. All of us have sinned and we know it. But the gospel message is Christ believes in us, Christ is committed to us. One week after Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the tree; he would be arrested and put to death again in the presence of thieves up a tree.
And again with his last breath Jesus would welcome every crook or sinner who turned to him. Why? Because he had come to seek and to save those who were lost. People like you and me. In many ways we are all a bit like Zacchaeus, some of us more lost than others. But all of us lost to some extent or another.
Like Zacchaeus, we are small people in many ways. But, here every week at mass we climb into the sight of God and we say we are not worthy that He should come under our roof. But Christ invites himself in, He comes under our roof and gives Himself to us. And he can say to us what he said to Zacchaeus, this day salvation has come to this house. It is only in Christ that we can become whole, it is only in Christ that we can become complete. We do not need anyone to play us a tune.
There is a religious novelist, Lloyd Douglas who closes his version of the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus with these words. “Zacchaeus, said The Carpenter gently, what did you see that made you desire this peace?” “Good Master, I saw in you the Zacchaeus I was meant to be and when you showed me that, I could not turn away