Sunday, 3 November 2019

Sachsenhausen was
the first concentration
camp in Nazi Germany

The concentration camp at Sachsenhausen dates from 1933, and was the first camp set up by the Nazis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Remembrance Day this month has an added poignancy in its commemorations as this year marks the eightieth anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and the centenary of the official end of World War I with the Versailles Peace Treaty 1919.

During a recent visit to Berlin, I also visited Sachsenhausen, a former concentration camp in Oranienburg 35 km north of Berlin, where 200,000 people were imprisoned between the years of 1936 and 1945.

The local Nazi ‘Brown Shirt’ paramilitaries set up the first concentration camp in Prussia in a vacant factory in the centre of Oranienburg on 21 March 1933. In the months after the Nazis seized power, Oranienburg took on a key role in the persecution of political opponents, especially in Berlin. It became one of the earliest concentration camps and it was used primarily for political prisoners from 1936.

Arbeit Macht Frei, ‘Work Makes Free’ … the slogan on the gates of Sachsenhausen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The camp was unique as the administrative centre of all concentration camps and a training centre for SS officers. The political prisoners included Centrists, Social Democrats, pacifists, priests, poets and even dissenting voices among the Nazis.

Other prisoners included Jews, Sinti, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and people branded as ‘career criminals’ and ‘anti-socials.’

Sachsenhausen was used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘First they came for …’

Prominent prisoners in Sachsenhausen included Pastor Martin Niemöller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi, the fascist former Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg, Stalin’s eldest son Yakov Dzhugashvili, the former Spanish Prime Minister Francisco Largo Caballero, Trygve Bratelli, later Prime Minister of Norway, and Bismarck’s grandson, Count Gottfried von Bismarck-Schönhausen, a former SS officer.

The cell where Pastor Martin Niemöller was held in isolation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Niemöller is often remembered for his poem:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me


The number of Jewish prisoners in Sachsenhausen was 21 in 1937 and 11,100 by 1945. During Kristallnacht (‘Night of Broken Glass’) on 9-10 November 1938, Himmler ordered the arrest of up to 30,000 Jews. The SS transported almost 6,000 Jews to Sachsenhausen in the days after Kristallnacht.

The trees and forests screened Sachsenhausen from view (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Executions and gassings

The Main Gate or Guard Tower ‘A,’ with its 8 mm Maxim machine gun, housed the offices of the camp administration. On the entrance gates to Sachsenhausen is the infamous slogan Arbeit Macht Frei, ‘Work Makes (you) Free.’

About 200,000 people were held as prisoners in Sachsenhausen between 1936 and 1945. The site was triangular in shape, focused on the large Appellplatz, where tens of thousands of prisoners lined up for morning and evening roll calls. The barracks of custody zone which fanned out from the base of the Appellplatz.

The site was triangular in shape, and tens of thousands of prisoners lined up twice a day for roll calls on the large Appellplatz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sachsenhausen was intended to set a standard for other concentration camps, both in its design and the treatment of prisoners. The camp perimeter is an equilateral triangle with a semi-circular roll call area centred on the main entrance gate in the boundary running north-east to south-west. Barrack huts lie beyond the roll call area, radiating from the gate.

The layout allowed the machine gun above the entrance gate to dominate the camp. But additional watchtowers were built on the perimeter.

The camp’s capacity became inadequate and it was expanded in 1938 by adding a rectangular area known as the ‘small camp,’ north-east of the entrance gate and the perimeter wall was altered to enclose it.

There was an additional area outside the main camp perimeter. There two huts, Sonderlager ‘A’ and ‘B,’ were built in 1941 for special prisoners held in isolation.

According to SS files, more than 2,000 women were held at Sachsenhausen, and there were several subcamps for women in Berlin.

Prisoners who stepped into the ‘neutral zone’ at the perimeter were shot without warning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At first, executions at the camp were carried out by taking individual prisoners to a small room, where they were told they were to have their height and weight measured but were shot in the back of the neck through a sliding door.

This became time-consuming and was replaced by shooting prisoners in a trench or hanging them. But panicking prisoners were hard to control, and small-scale tests began of what later became the gas chambers in larger camps. By September 1941, when the first trials of gas chambers were beginning in Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen had already been the scene of gassings.

There were few successful escapes from the camp. The perimeter consisted of a 3-metre-high stone wall on the outside. The space inside the wall was patrolled by guards and dogs. This space was bordered by a lethal electric fence. Inside that space was a gravel ‘death strip’ forbidden to the prisoners: any prisoner stepping onto the ‘death strip’ was shot without warning.

At an early stage, prisoners were shot in trenches and hanged (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Forgeries and forced labour

Sachsenhausen was the location of Operation Bernhard, one of the largest-ever currency counterfeiting operations. Prisoners were forced to produce forged US and British banknotes in a plan to undermine the British and US economies. Over £1 billion in counterfeit banknotes were recovered. The fake £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes went into circulation in 1943 and there were plans to drop forged notes over London by plane.

Heinkel, the aircraft manufacturer, was a major user of Sachsenhausen labour, with 6,000 and 8,000 prisoners forced to work on their He 177 bomber planes.

Some of these aircraft crashed unexpectedly around Stalingrad and it is thought the prisoners had sabotaged them. Other firms to use camp labour included AEG and Siemens.

Prisoners also worked in brickworks supposed to supply the building blocks for Hitler’s dream city, Welthauptstadt Germania, planned by Albert Speer as the capital of a world-wide Nazi empire.

The gas chambers in larger camps were first tested and used in Sachsenhausen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the harsh regime in the camp, prisoners were often forced to assume the ‘Sachsenhausen salute’ where a prisoner would squat with his arms outstretched in front. There was a marching strip where prisoners marched on a variety of surfaces to test military footwear, sometimes marching 25 to 40 km a day.

Prisoners of war were made to run up to 40 km a day with heavy packs, sometimes after being given performance-boosting drugs like cocaine, to test military boots for shoe factories.

Gay prisoners were often suspended from posts by their wrists strapped behind their backs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Public executions

Some prisoners kept in isolation, especially gay men, were suspended from posts by their wrists strapped behind their backs. In cases of attempted escape, public hangings took place in front of the prisoners.

Wolfgang Wirth carried out experiments with the lethal sulphur mustard gas, and prisoners were used to test experimental drugs designed to increase stamina and endurance.

Seven British commandoes captured after Operation Musketoon were executed at Sachsenhausen on Hitler’s orders on 23 October 1942.

A memorial to Jewish prisoners in Sachsenhausen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Four Special Operations agents led by Mike Cumberlege, who were captured in Greece in 1943 were executed at Sachsenhausen in 1945. At the same time, John Godwin and the survivors of ‘Operation Checkmate’ in 1942 were executed at Sachsenhausen. Godwin wrestled the pistol of the firing party commander from his belt and shot him dead before being shot himself.

At least 30,000 prisoners died in Sachsenhausen from exhaustion, disease, malnutrition, pneumonia and poor living conditions. Many were executed or died because of brutal medical experimentation.

About 13,000 Soviet soldiers arrived as prisoners at Sachsenhausen towards the end of World War II. Over 10,000 were executed and their bodies were then incinerated in a crematorium.

An obelisk with 18 red triangles, the Nazi symbol for political prisoners, usually Communists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Soviet liberation

With the advance of the Soviet army in 1945, Sachsenhausen was prepared for evacuation. The SS ordered 33,000 prisoners on a forced march. Most of the prisoners were physically exhausted and thousands did not survive this death march. Those who collapsed on the way were shot by the SS.

On 22 April 1945, the camp’s remaining 3,000 prisoners were liberated by Soviet and Polish troops, and the forced march ended on 2 May 1945 when 18,000 remaining prisoners were liberated by Soviet tanks.

After World War II, Oranienburg was in the Soviet Occupation Zone that became East Germany. It was used by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police that later became the KGB, as a special camp until 1950.

Fifteen camp officials and two former prisoner kapos were put to trial before a Soviet Military Tribunal in Berlin in 1947. All 17 were found guilty, 14 were given life sentences with hard labour, and two were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment with hard labour.

The museum exhibits depict life in the camp (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

After World War II, the Netherlands sought the extradition from Czechoslovakia of Antonín Zápotocký, who became President of Czechoslovakia, for his alleged role in the murder of Dutch prisoners during his time as a kapo at the camp.

Sachsenhausen had become the largest of three special camps in the Soviet zone by 1948. Over five years, 60,000 people were held in the camp, and by the time it closed in 1950, at least 12,000 had died of malnutrition and disease.

For some years, Sachsenhausen was used by East Germany's Kasernierte Volkspolizei, a police division that became the nucleus of the East German army in 1956.

The compound has been vandalised by neo-Nazis on several occasions (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Modern museum

The Sachsenhausen National Memorial Site opened in 1961. The first director, Christian Mahler, had been a prisoner in Sachsenhausen in 1938-1943.

Many of the original buildings were removed and the East German government emphasised the suffering of political prisoners. A memorial obelisk is marked by 18 red triangles, the Nazi symbol for political prisoners, usually communists.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of East Germany, excavations found the bodies of 12,500 victims at Sachsenhausen; most were children, adolescents and elderly people.

After German unification, the camp was given to a foundation that opened a museum on the site. The museum exhibits include artwork by prisoners, scale models of the camp, pictures, documents and other displays depicting life in the camp – and a 30 cm high pile of gold teeth extracted from prisoners. A separate museum documents the camp’s Soviet-era history.

The main street from Oranienburg to Sachsenhausen has been named in honour of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The compound has been vandalised by neo-Nazis on several occasions. Barracks 38 and 39 of the Jewish Museum were severely damaged in an arson attack in 1992. The perpetrators were arrested, and the barracks were reconstructed by 1997.

However, a decision was taken not to rebuild buildings on the site built during the Nazi regime. The destroyed section of the huts is now a Jewish museum with the surviving section left as it was immediately after the fire with the paint still blistered from the flames.

The main street leading from Oranienburg to Sachsenhausen, once lined with the homes of camp officers and officials, has been named in honour of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, who died there in 1945.

Flowers remember the prisoners and victims of Sachsenhausen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This feature was first published in November 2019 in the ‘Church Review,’ the Dublin and Glendalough diocesan magazine

How Zacchaeus has been
misrepresented, misunderstood
and libelled for too long

‘Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right within them’ (Habakkuk 2: 4) … street art in Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 3 November 2019

The Fourth Sunday before Advent


11.30 am: Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

The Readings: Habakkuk 1: 1-4, 2: 1-4; Psalm 119: 137-144; II Thessalonians 1: 1-4, 11-12; Luke 19: 1-10.

James Tissot, ‘Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage of Jesus’ (Brooklyn Museum)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The readings this morning tell us how the oppressed, the small people, those who are made to feel small by others, especially the proud and the violent, are truly cared for by God, have the promise of new life, and are invited into the kingdom.

In the first reading (Habakkuk 1: 1-4; 2: 1-4), the Prophet Habakkuk cries out:

Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith (Habakkuk 2: 4).

The Psalmist says, ‘I am small and despised’ (Psalm 119: 141). Yet he lives by the law, and he prays that he may live.

In the New Testament reading, Saint Paul and his companions recognise the sufferings of the Christians in Thessaloniki, but they can give thanks for their faith is growing abundantly, and their love for one another is increasing.

In the Gospel reading (Luke 19: 1-10), Zacchaeus is despised both as a tax collector and as a man who is ‘short in stature.’ Both his occupation and his physique squeeze him to the margins and put him outside the community of faith. Yet, he is seen by Christ not as he seems to others, but as God sees him to truly be.

Last week, we looked at the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the Temple (Luke 18: 9-14). Imagine if Zacchaeus was the model for that publican, that tax collector.

The story of Zacchaeus is a fast-moving story: every verse from verse 1 to 7, in the original Greek, begins with the word καὶ (and), indicating that the pace has heightened, the story is speeding up, we are moving closer to the climax of this Gospel.

Christ is about to set out from Jericho to Jerusalem. From Jericho, the road is going to be uphill more treacherous: remember that it is on this road between Jericho and Jerusalem that a certain man is mugged and left for dead until the Good Samaritan passes by (Luke 10: 25-37).

Jericho was a major resting place or stopping point on a main trade route, making it a lucrative and profitable location both for tax collectors and for bandits.

But Jericho has other significance: the walls of Jericho fell down at the call of the trumpets (see Joshua 6). So in this reading, after Christ passes through the walls of Jericho, his call breaks down all the walls people erect around themselves, individually and collectively.

Who is Zacchaeus?

Certainly, Zacchaeus is not any run-of-the-mill tax collector – he is the ἀρχιτελώνης (architelonis), the chief tax collector, and so by contract had the right to collect revenues throughout this district. His name (Ζακχαῖος, Zakchaios) means pure, but his neighbours would have despised him, not only because they believed he squeezed the last drachma and the last lepta out of widows and children, but because they would also have seen him as a collaborator with the Roman administration.

There, a man who wants to see Christ is probably pushed to the back of the crowd for two reasons that count him out: he is small in stature, and he is a tax collector.

The physical problem shows how Zacchaeus is pushed to the margins by those who should have counted him into their social and religious community. He is of little stature not just physically, but socially too.

Can you imagine yourself as a little child trying to see a great parade – perhaps a Saint Patrick’s Day parade – when you were small?

Did everyone want to let you through?

Or did you not count? Did no-one stand aside for you?

No-one is going to stand aside for Zacchaeus. They belittle him, and they probably think he deserves it – after all, the taxes he collects support the Roman occupation and administration.

But Zacchaeus overcomes, rises above, his exclusion, by climbing the tree – is there a symbolic reference here to clinging to the Cross? In any case, Zacchaeus climbs the tree to see Jesus – something you could imagine a child doing, but surely not the sort of thing a well-paid civil servant should be seen doing?

Zacchaeus sees Jesus and Jesus sees Zacchaeus.

And Jesus invites himself not just to dine with Zacchaeus, but to stay with him: ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for I must stay at your house today’ (verse 5).

Normally, it is the potential host rather than the intended guest who does the inviting. So once again, Jesus the Guest becomes Jesus the Host.

Zacchaeus is delighted. But the good burghers of Jericho are unsettled. They murmur that Jesus is heading off to dine with sinners.

We are so self-righteous at times in our churches that I am worried we are in danger of being unwilling to welcome those who would be seen today as the little people.

One rector I know in a comfortable parish challenged his parishioners, who are very generous in their giving, especially when it comes to development agencies, mission agencies and what we once called Third World causes.

He asked them how they would react if Syrian refugees were moved into a vacant hotel or hostel in the parish on a Saturday night, and all of them presumed to come to church on the following Sunday morning.

In welcoming Jesus, Zacchaeus has what can only be described as a conversion experience.

The NRSV translation tells us that he promises to amend his ways and that, in the future, he will give half his possessions to the poor, and return anything extra he has squeezed out of people when he has been collecting taxes.

Unfortunately, the NRSV translation is a little inaccurate here. Zacchaeus makes no such promise about the future. He says, in the original Greek, that this is what he is doing in the present – the present tense is used.

If he is telling the truth, then Zacchaeus has been grossly misrepresented, misunderstood and libelled by his neighbours and within his own community, even at the point where he is dining with Jesus.

The present tense is important. For this day, on this day, Christ affirms that Zacchaeus too is a child of Abraham, that he too is an heir to those promises made long, long ago to Abraham.

Those who needed conversion were not Zacchaeus and others like him on the margins, who were in need of seeing people as Christ sees them.

Christ seeks out the sinners, the lost, those who are excluded, those counted out, and invites them to the heavenly banquet. Like Zacchaeus, they too are brought from the margins into the centre.

The one person everyone thought was outside, is on the inside as far as Christ is concerned. And those who think they are on the inside are in danger of finding that they are on the outside.

Are we welcoming enough, as individuals and as a Church?

How would we feel if Jesus came to your parish next weekend, but decided not to come to our church on Sunday morning, but to go somewhere else?

What if we were left without Christ being present in our church on Sunday morning … in either Word or Sacrament?

How often are we prepared to welcome Christ’s presence among us only in the way we choose, on our terms?

For those of us in what might be described as ‘High Church’ or Anglo-Catholic traditions, do we neglect Christ’s presence in the Word too often?

To those of us in what might be described as ‘Evangelical’ traditions, do we neglect Christ’s presence in the Sacrament too often?

Saint Paul tells his readers this morning ‘Your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing’ (II Thessalonians 1: 3).

May our faith and love continue to increase and to grow abundantly so that we count in those who are overlooked, those who are not counted in, those who are pushed to the margins.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘Your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing’ (II Thessalonians 1: 3) … inside the dome of the Church of Panagia Dexia, near the Arch of Galerius in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Luke 19: 1-10 (NRSVA):

1 [Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 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.’ 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 8 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.’ 9 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’



Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and eternal God,
you have kindled the flame of love in the hearts of the saints:
Grant to us the same faith and power of love,
that, as we rejoice in their triumphs,
we may be sustained by their example and fellowship;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

Merciful God, righteous judge of all,
who sent Jesus among us
to seek and to save those who are lost:
grant that we may eagerly seek the Saviour,
and joyfully welcome him into our homes and lives.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Do we neglect Christ’s presence in Word and Sacrament too often? … an icon of the Last Supper in a shop window in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

421, I come with joy, a child of God (CD 25)
509, Your kingdom come, O God (CD 29)
639, O thou who camest from above (CD 36)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘Trouble and heaviness have taken hold upon me’ (Psalm 119: 143) … street art in Málaga (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

May your faith grow
abundantly, and your love
for one another increase

James Tissot, ‘Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage of Jesus’ (Brooklyn Museum)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 3 November 2019

The Fourth Sunday before Advent


9.30 am: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

The Readings: Habakkuk 1: 1-4, 2: 1-4; Psalm 119: 137-144; II Thessalonians 1: 1-4, 11-12; Luke 19: 1-10.

‘Your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing’ (II Thessalonians 1: 3) … inside the dome of the Church of Panagia Dexia, near the Arch of Galerius in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The readings this morning tell us how the oppressed, the small people, those who are made to feel small by others, especially the proud and the violent, are truly cared for by God, have the promise of new life, and are invited into the kingdom.

In the first reading (Habakkuk 1: 1-4; 2: 1-4), the Prophet Habakkuk cries out:

Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith (Habakkuk 2: 4).

The Psalmist says, ‘I am small and despised’ (Psalm 119: 141). Yet he lives by the law, and he prays that he may live.

In the New Testament reading, Saint Paul and his companions recognise the sufferings of the Christians in Thessaloniki, but they can give thanks for their faith is growing abundantly, and their love for one another is increasing.

In the Gospel reading (Luke 19: 1-10), Zacchaeus is despised both as a tax collector and as a man who is ‘short in stature.’ Both his occupation and his physique squeeze him to the margins and put him outside the community of faith. Yet, he is seen by Christ not as he seems to others, but as God sees him to truly be.

Last week, we looked at the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the Temple (Luke 18: 9-14). Imagine if Zacchaeus was the model for that publican, that tax collector.

The story of Zacchaeus is a fast-moving story: every verse from verse 1 to 7, in the original Greek, begins with the word καὶ (and), indicating that the pace has heightened, the story is speeding up, we are moving closer to the climax of this Gospel.

Christ is about to set out from Jericho to Jerusalem. From Jericho, the road is going to be uphill more treacherous: remember that it is on this road between Jericho and Jerusalem that a certain man is mugged and left for dead until the Good Samaritan passes by (Luke 10: 25-37).

Jericho was a major resting place or stopping point on a main trade route, making it a lucrative and profitable location both for tax collectors and for bandits.

But Jericho has other significance: the walls of Jericho fell down at the call of the trumpets (see Joshua 6). So in this reading, after Christ passes through the walls of Jericho, his call breaks down all the walls people erect around themselves, individually and collectively.

Who is Zacchaeus?

Certainly, Zacchaeus is not any run-of-the-mill tax collector – he is the ἀρχιτελώνης (architelonis), the chief tax collector, and so by contract had the right to collect revenues throughout this district. His name (Ζακχαῖος, Zakchaios) means pure, but his neighbours would have despised him, not only because they believed he squeezed the last drachma and the last lepta out of widows and children, but because they would also have seen him as a collaborator with the Roman administration.

There, a man who wants to see Christ is probably pushed to the back of the crowd for two reasons that count him out: he is small in stature, and he is a tax collector.

The physical problem shows how Zacchaeus is pushed to the margins by those who should have counted him into their social and religious community. He is of little stature not just physically, but socially too.

Can you imagine yourself as a little child trying to see a great parade – perhaps a Saint Patrick’s Day parade – when you were small?

Did everyone want to let you through?

Or did you not count? Did no-one stand aside for you?

No-one is going to stand aside for Zacchaeus. They belittle him, and they probably think he deserves it – after all, the taxes he collects support the Roman occupation and administration.

But Zacchaeus overcomes, rises above, his exclusion, by climbing the tree – is there a symbolic reference here to clinging to the Cross? In any case, Zacchaeus climbs the tree to see Jesus – something you could imagine a child doing, but surely not the sort of thing a well-paid civil servant should be seen doing?

Zacchaeus sees Jesus and Jesus sees Zacchaeus.

And Jesus invites himself not just to dine with Zacchaeus, but to stay with him: ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for I must stay at your house today’ (verse 5).

Normally, it is the potential host rather than the intended guest who does the inviting. So once again, Jesus the Guest becomes Jesus the Host.

Zacchaeus is delighted. But the good burghers of Jericho are unsettled. They murmur that Jesus is heading off to dine with sinners.

We are so self-righteous at times in our churches that I am worried we are in danger of being unwilling to welcome those who would be seen today as the little people.

One rector I know in a comfortable parish challenged his parishioners, who are very generous in their giving, especially when it comes to development agencies, mission agencies and what we once called Third World causes.

He asked them how they would react if Syrian refugees were moved into a vacant hotel or hostel in the parish on a Saturday night, and all of them presumed to come to church on the following Sunday morning.

In welcoming Jesus, Zacchaeus has what can only be described as a conversion experience.

The NRSV translation tells us that he promises to amend his ways and that, in the future, he will give half his possessions to the poor, and return anything extra he has squeezed out of people when he has been collecting taxes.

Unfortunately, the NRSV translation is a little inaccurate here. Zacchaeus makes no such promise about the future. He says, in the original Greek, that this is what he is doing in the present – the present tense is used.

If he is telling the truth, then Zacchaeus has been grossly misrepresented, misunderstood and libelled by his neighbours and within his own community, even at the point where he is dining with Jesus.

The present tense is important. For this day, on this day, Christ affirms that Zacchaeus too is a child of Abraham, that he too is an heir to those promises made long, long ago to Abraham.

Those who needed conversion were not Zacchaeus and others like him on the margins, who were in need of seeing people as Christ sees them.

Christ seeks out the sinners, the lost, those who are excluded, those counted out, and invites them to the heavenly banquet. Like Zacchaeus, they too are brought from the margins into the centre.

The one person everyone thought was outside, is on the inside as far as Christ is concerned. And those who think they are on the inside are in danger of finding that they are on the outside.

Are we welcoming enough, as individuals and as a Church?

How would we feel if Jesus came to your parish next weekend, but decided not to come to our church on Sunday morning, but to go somewhere else?

What if we were left without Christ being present in our church on Sunday morning … in either Word or Sacrament?

How often are we prepared to welcome Christ’s presence among us only in the way we choose, on our terms?

For those of us in what might be described as ‘High Church’ or Anglo-Catholic traditions, do we neglect Christ’s presence in the Word too often?

To those of us in what might be described as ‘Evangelical’ traditions, do we neglect Christ’s presence in the Sacrament too often?

Saint Paul tells his readers this morning ‘Your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing’ (II Thessalonians 1: 3).

May our faith and love continue to increase and to grow abundantly so that we count in those who are overlooked, those who are not counted in, those who are pushed to the margins.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.



Luke 19: 1-10 (NRSVA):

1 [Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 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.’ 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 8 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.’ 9 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

Do we neglect Christ’s presence in Word and Sacrament too often? … an icon of the Last Supper in a shop window in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time, Year C)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and eternal God,
you have kindled the flame of love in the hearts of the saints:
Grant to us the same faith and power of love,
that, as we rejoice in their triumphs,
we may be sustained by their example and fellowship;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord of heaven,
in this Eucharist you have brought us near
to an innumerable company of angels
and to the spirits of the saints made perfect.
As in this food of our earthly pilgrimage
we have shared their fellowship,
so may we come to share their joy in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right within them’ (Habakkuk 2: 4) … street art in Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Hymns:

421, I come with joy, a child of God (CD 25)
509, Your kingdom come, O God (CD 29)
639, O thou who camest from above (CD 36)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘Trouble and heaviness have taken hold upon me’ (Psalm 119: 143) … street art in Málaga (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)