Actor and sound designer Matt Bittner presents an intriguing musical exploration of the meal Zacchaeus shared with Jesus, and the change it had upon his life. This work is in response to the theme of “meals” as inspired by Luke 19:1-10.
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Jesus and Zaccheus
1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacche´us, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. 4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him; for he was to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacche´us, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house. 6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 8 And Zacche´us stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
When I first began to think about this project, I was attempting to view modern day meal experiences through a biblical lens. For example, a question I asked myself early on: “How can I somehow extract the beauty of the gospel (or the trinity, or Love) through the picture of a shared meal?” Then I thought of a small portion of a sermon I had heard during Lent. The speaker, as part of a larger theme, briefly examined the significance of Jesus sharing meals with people. He spoke of the act not as some spiritual gesture (or as a physical gesture wherein the spiritual world was magically accessed) but as the real life, every day, human event of sitting down to talk and eat. That event is necessary. So, I imagine, because Jesus knew this, much of his time of uplifting, teaching, nurturing, and redeeming was spent sitting down to talk and eat with people. After all, when we eat, we truly rid ourselves of all pretense of being anything other than simple humans with needs. And only then (it seems) can we begin to practice the world-toppling exercise of seeing others as simple humans with needs too.
I then reinvested in the project with a different approach: to find a biblical example of a shared meal as it ought to be. Suddenly the story of Zaccheus, which I’d known seemingly forever, took on a new meaning. There is an embittered, unloved outcast working selfishly to fortify himself against a world of which he is so wholly terrified and with which he is so wholly angry. He hears tell of a man that selflessly gives himself to a world with which he is so wholly in love and by which he is so highly esteemed. The outcast pushes himself to his physical limits just to catch a glimpse of what it must be like to truly live in communion with others. When Jesus spots the lost soul alone in a tree, he calls him down. Not to offer a sermon, not to lay hands on him, but to ask if Zaccheus would like to experience true community through hosting a group of people and eating with them. (I understand that the text does not clearly state that food was part of the deal, but culturally it would have been implied.) Zaccheus finally experiences the wonderfully simple reality of communion. The result? He does not suddenly have friends thronging to his house. Nor does he begin to preach. He doesn’t even leave his home to follow Jesus as so many did at the time. He instead subverts a lifetime of fear with a brave leap into generosity. He begins a new life of love and community.
This is the story I hope to have captured with this song.
Matt Bittner is an actor and sound designer based out of Ridgewood, Queens. He has composed original music and designed sound for collegiate, regional, and NYC theatrical projects. He holds an MFA in acting from Rutgers University and his musical education comes primarily from church and participating in choral groups in school. He is currently performing in Much Ado About Nothing — the first of this year’s Free Shakespeare in the Park productions.