Taken from a Catholic Moment;
“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours. And now I know that you have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you” (Confession of St. Augustine of Hippo).
The experience of the conversion of St. Augustine could be likened to that of Zacchaeus in the Gospel. And the first reading affirms how conversion is made possible through God’s patience and mercy. Yet man must cooperate with this saving grace of God by striving to remain in the good works as St. Paul admonishes the Thessalonians in the second reading.
In this first reading, the author of the book of Wisdom, a Jewish sage responds to an important question that preoccupied the mind of his people, and which we often ask: “Why does God not do away with evil men?” In his response, he affirmed God as a merciful father whose mercy extends to all without boundary. Thus, he does not despise his own, and he values each one of his creatures to the point that even when they offend him, he says: ‘Little by little He corrects them and admonishes and reminds them how they have sinned.’ What a patient God we have!
At the time Paul wrote this letter, there was confusion in the community of Thessalonica because it was alleged that someone brought a letter claiming to be from Paul. The letter asserted that the Day of the Lord, i.e., the second coming of Jesus, had already occurred. This created a kind of internal tension and reactions. Some even relaxed and never wanted to bother themselves with the things of faith again. But Paul calls their attention not to allow themselves be distracted by any false message about the coming of the Lord. And while they still have to hope for that day, he admonishes them not to relent in good works.
Barely one week Luke spoke about the “metanoia” of a certain tax collector in the Temple of prayer, today he points out the clear identity of another tax collector “the Sycamore Zacchaeus.” It is Luke’s way of affirming that the Kingdom of God is taking a different meaning. It is no longer an inheritance of the supposed chosen ones rather for those who though are counted apart but have acknowledged their unworthiness and in humility set off in search of the kingdom of God made visible in Christ.
Today Jesus meets Zacchaeus at Jericho. Jericho was a very wealthy, commercial town in the Jordan valley known for growing palms and balsam groves. It was equally important because at the time of Jesus, there were two major highways in Israel, and one of them went through Jericho. Thus, Jericho was one of the flourishing tax centers of Palestine and its tax-collectors were very rich and popular.
How does Zacchaeus’ meeting with Jesus look like?
Zacchaeus was anxious to see Jesus (Lk 19:3)
Why did Zacchaeus want to see Jesus? It was perhaps a mere curiosity. But could this eagerness be an indication of something deeper – a thirst, a desire? And where does that desire come from? Certainly God was the source of the thirst. He personally organized the encounter. Jesus chose to cross the path of Zacchaeus and not the other way round.
He ran ahead (Lk 19:4a)
Because God had already stirred that desire in the heart of Zacchaeus, he could not resist the attractive force of the presence of Jesus. He rose up in search for Jesus. This search could be likened to that of the woman who went to the well to satisfy her thirst (Jn 4:7). Zacchaeus was thirsty. He had a problem. His life was empty.
Zacchaeus was short.This is a physical description of his person and which prevented him at first from seeing Jesus. This was a self-imposed problem.
The second obstacle was “the crowd.” This seemed to be a greater obstacle that almost made it impossible for him to see Jesus. It was an obstacle rising from his environment and the people around him.
: He climbed a sycamore tree (Lk 19:4b)
Because God has destined him for this divine encounter, no obstacle can defeat such plan.The same God who has put within him the desire to search for Him, also showed him a way out. Sycamore tree in its meaning is a symbol of “strength, protection and divinity. It was God’s sent signpost for Zacchaeus and he did not lose sight of it. He saw it as a pointer to Jesus like the way the Magi saw a star in the east. They recognise that this is the time to go searching for the Son of God. However, even when the found themselves in the palace of Herod which was an obstacle for them, the same God that brought them from the east stirred afresh in their hearts that it wasn’t their destination. They were temporarily uncomfortable because they lost sight of the star. We were told that when they saw the star, they rejoiced (Matthew 2:10).
Another important act displayed by Zacchaeus is the “Climbing of the Sycamore.” It was an act of individual will to be open to the grace of God. He did not stop at seeing and admiring the Sycamore tree but he grabbed it as a God-sent medium to encounter him. It was a difficult thing to do owing to his worth in the society as a rich man…but he understood that God is greater than his worth. Thus he dropped the robe of pride and vested himself with the robe of humility which is the only vestment suitable for meeting God.
: Zacchaeus, come down (Lk 19:5)
This is a very important moment in the whole narrative. It reaffirms the teaching of the Church that Salvation is both an act and an initiative of God himself. Notice that it was Jesus himself who invited him to a banquet. It is a prefiguration of the heavenly banquet meant for saints and which Jesus himself will serve.The God of surprises in Jesus goes to Zacchaeus who is now on the tree: “Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I am to stay at your house today” (Lk 19:5). Jesus invited himself into the house of Zacchaeus just as he did with the woman who came to the well to draw water (Jn 4:7). It was Jesus himself who took the initiative to make the ‘seductive’ proposition: “Give me something to drink” as a means of having his way into her life.
: Jesus has gone to stay in the house of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:7)
Zacchaeus’ meeting with the Lord on the tree would not have been complete if he had not allowed Him into his home. In other words into his heart. It was a moment of communion made visible through meal. Meals signify fellowship, celebration and sealing of a covenant. So many gospel encounters unfold in the context of a meal: the sinner woman (Lk 7: 36-50), multiplication of loaves (Jn 6); last supper (Jn 13); the resurrection encounter (Jn 21:1-13); the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35).
At every Eucharistic meal, it is Jesus himself who prepares table for those who desire salvation through communion with him.
: Today salvation has come (Lk 19:9)
After Jesus had played his part, it was left for Zacchaeus to give a definitive response in order to make the encounter complete. In other words, conversion which is the initiative of God cannot be complete until man makes an active and concrete response. And this rejoins the words of St. Augustine: “The God who created us without us, cannot save us without us.” The concrete response to conversion must be expressed in the act of renunciation. That is a pledge not to remain the same again since the new life is not compatible with the old. That is the pattern of leaving something behind like the woman on the well who left her jar of water because at that point it was no longer important for her since she now has a new jar of water, that is her new heart filled no longer with the old water of jacob but with the living water which is Jesus himself (Jn 4:28).This is exactly what Zacchaeus did. And the promise to repay whatever he has spoiled in the past is a penance that follows a penitent. There is a price that must be paid for any damage caused. Zacchaeus understood this and opened his heart to do it even more. It was not until then that Jesus pronounced the saving word: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham” (Lk 19:9).
Jesus has not stopped to enter the ‘Jericho’ of our lives. Each one of us like Zacchaeus has got his own saving opportunity but we must use it as he did. Jesus will not return back to ‘Jericho’ to meet Zacchaeus again. He got the chance and he used it. Let us not postpone our own hour of meeting with the Lord. It could be our last opportunity.
Zacchaeus was said to be short and was unable to see Jesus because of the crowd. Taken from its spiritual perspective, sin makes us short of the glory of God. The more we love sin and grow in friendship with it, the shorter we become and eventually lose sight of God. And when he passes our way, we cannot see him because our sins have rendered us spiritually short. The crowd of people that blocked the view of Zacchaeus was the world and its riches and distractions. Even when it was his last opportunity to see Jesus, they still could not allow him. They kept blocking his view. What is blocking our view of Jesus? We must be courageous enough like Zacchaeus to defeat them.
We must be open to grace. His word says: “My grace is enough for you: for power is at full stretch in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Zacchaeus opened his heart to the river of God’s grace and it flowed into the heart of his home. He allowed Jesus into his home, thus moving from public admiration and curiosity of Jesus’s identity to a concrete personal encounter with him. Many of us are still on the ‘Sycamore.’ We have grown used to admiring Jesus while sitting on the fence because we have blocked our hearts from allowing him to invite us into our home. Let us accept his invitation today for a total life changing encounter.
We must be ready to make amends. Don’t you think you and I have part of Zacchaeus in us? We may have extorted others either with our position or talent. The justice of God and the call to a new life demands that we pay them back. Secondly we must learn to take our penance seriously. Many of us leave the confessional thinking that to do penance is a second option afterall the sins are confessed. No, the penance given by the priest at the confessional completes the process of our healing. Let Zacchaeus guide our step on this.
Lord Jesus help me to always desire for change and do not pass me by nor let the ‘crowd’ of difficulties stop me from reaching you. Amen.