The story of Zacchaeus is a reminder that God sees all of us — and that we all matter
February 17, 2020
Who are you passing by today as you hurry to get to your next destination?
Christina Cosby, mission specialist for the Middle East and Europe with Presbyterian World Mission, remembers a few months ago she was watching a TV documentary about the refugee crisis in Europe and a camp, Moria, better known by its nickname “Hell on Earth.”
She learned that refugees at Moria stand in line for hours with no guarantee that they will receive food or other basic necessities. It’s a camp built for 3,000 refugees, yet it currently houses 13,000 — people living in deplorable conditions while their asylum cases are being processed.
“I turned off the TV,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, these people are far away. It doesn’t really affect me here. What can I do?’”
A short time later, she started her mission specialist position in Louisville and traveled to the Greek island of Lesvos, where she and other staff visited Moria Refugee Camp.
“I was called to pause, not to simply pass by, but to look up and notice the people I once deemed as ‘other,’” Cosby said.
As she preached during a recent chapel service at the Presbyterian Center, Cosby related her story to the familiar story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus as he passed by on his way through Jericho to Jerusalem.
“In each of our lives, there are people easy to see, easy to notice, easy to pay attention to and easy to forgive,” Cosby said. “For many, our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers fall into this category, as we are familiar with their ways. When they make us mad, do us wrong, pass us by — it’s easy to look past.
“Similarly, there are people that are easy for us to overlook — the person begging for money on the street corner, the child who doesn’t speak our language, the friend who never answers our phone calls or the people featured in the news on television. When we stop to look up, to look around, to simply notice someone for who they are, we see a little of ourselves inside of them — a piece of God that we share.”
Beyond considering the forgiveness Zacchaeus received and the salvation for any wrongs he may have committed in the course of his work as a tax collector, Cosby said this passage challenges us to think deeply about those we overlook as we pass by on life’s journey. “Perhaps for us it is the poor, the orphan, the widow or perhaps it is the rich,” she said.
Asked about takeaways from her sermon about Zacchaeus, Cosby suggested three:
- God sees what humanity cannot.
- God knows the good works we do behind closed doors, and what others assume about us is irrelevant.
- God forgives us before we can begin to repay our wrongs.
Prior to joining the World Mission staff, Cosby, a native of Lynchburg, Virginia, served as director of Christian formation at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. She also helped oversee the church’s homeless shelter.
“In New York City, you see homeless people all the time,” Cosby said, “but actually having a chance to know them and to respect them as people, and for them to respect me, it’s just a beautiful experience.” On her last night before her move to Louisville, she threw a pizza party for the 12 men who live in the shelter. “This was a special ministry, and I wanted a chance to say goodbye,” she said. “They are just wonderful guys.”
Cosby earned her Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and is currently a candidate for ordination. She said she feels blessed to have had supportive congregations, family and friends in her life.
“It’s nice to know you have a community of faith surrounding you, to pray for you when you can’t and to celebrate with you when you can,” Cosby said. “I think our faith is done best in community.”
Tammy Warren, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Refugees
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
O God, whose love stretches around the world, bless your disciples who serve your people. Enliven their ministries and show them compassion, that they may better reflect your presence in our changing world, which craves knowledge and truth only you can illuminate. Amen.