Yield and Melt Away
Years ago when Jack was a curate in Leigh (1962-5), he and his two fellow curates (those were wonderful days when a parish boasted three curates!) took turns to take assembly at the parish infants’ school. One day all three were summoned by the formidable headmistress. She requested that they get their act together and plan the assemblies as her children had just been regaled with the story of Zacchaeus for three consecutive weeks. They never offended again!
This memory came to me recently as I read the following poem:
“Zacchaeus in a sycamore looked upon God, who summoned him;
small man, he had to climb to see, to forfeit human dignity.
The choice to climb is up or down, to stretch or stoop,
and either way the self must yield and melt away
if the Lord’s face we would see. Zacchaeus found his tree.”
That line “the self must yield and melt away” seems to me to be very appropriate as we prepare to enter the season of Advent at the start of next month, when Mary’s total obedience and submission to the message of the angel Gabriel is writ large.
Equally this month, as we commemorate the end of World War II in 1918, we can focus upon the selflessness of all those young men (many only boys) who marched to their deaths in the mud-filled trenches amid volleys of cannon fire. As we know, they were fired up to enlist to fight “for King and country” in what most believed would be a brief and glorious few weeks of battle. The first to join up had no idea of what lay ahead of them. It was an adventure, a fling with mates, an opportunity for a change of life. As the casualty lists grew and injured survivors returned to tell their horror stories, there must have been a change of attitude.
Nevertheless young men continued to enlist or be conscripted in the belief that to fight was for the greater good of mankind – and thus God’s will. A sense of self did indeed melt away, subsumed by solidarity, esprit de corps and patriotism.
As we reflect today we weep for the countless young lives sacrificed in a brutal war – and for the families broken by the loss of sons, brothers, fathers and husbands. So many indeed did not grow old and we owe a tremendous debt to all those soldiers. It is right and proper that this November – and every November – we commemorate all those who yielded up their lives.
- Zaccheus was a tax collector and, at the time, tax collectors were despised as traitors. He arrived before the crowd who were meeting Jesus, who was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. He was a small man and so was unable to see Jesus through the crowd, so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree along the way of Jesus’ path. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up at the tree, addressed Zacchaeus by name, and told him to come down, for he intended to visit his house. The crowd was shocked that Jesus, a religious teacher and prophet, would sully himself by being a guest of a sinner. Zaccheus later gave away half of his goods for the poor, and Jesus said that with God all things are possible, and a rich man can be saved by his actions. (Luke 19:3).