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” and was inspired by Luke 19:1-10:
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was the chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly…
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.
This work was curated by Aaron Kruziki.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com