31st October 2010
2 Thessalonians 1.11-2.2
A man in his forties, Paul was invited to the birthday party of his good friend John. During the party he met many people. The next day he met his host John who asked him what he thought of one of those present but who spent only a short time at the party and then passed on to another engagement. “He has changed since we were at college together”. Paul was amazed that he did not recognize him.
In the gospel today we see Jesus entering Jericho and passing through it. So many times in the Gospel we see him passing by or through a place. If he is not stopped, he will keep going. Similarly, he constantly passes through our lives. He comes every day in one form or another. He will come into my life today. Will I recognise him? Where am I expecting to find him? In what person? In what place? In what experience? To be really ready I have to be prepared to meet him in ANY experience.
No one expected Zacchaeus a senior tax collector, a very wealthy and prominent man in Jericho hiding up a Sycamore tree. But he was very small in stature and therefore felt he had no opportunity because of the crowds to see Jesus who was to pass that way. Certainly no one would have wanted to help him either by making way for him. His fellow Jews would have hated him as he worked for the Roman army of occupation. Besides tax collectors in general were a corrupt group, well known for exploiting their own people and becoming rich as a result.
There is a message there somehow. Very often we are not able to see Jesus in our lives because we are crowded out by other people and the way they think. To see Jesus clearly we often have to get away from the crowd and risk being different, risk losing our dignity. The word “holy” in Greek actually means someone who is different, someone set apart.
How determined are we to see Jesus, to come close to him? Zacchaeus had to overcome the obstacle of his small size. What are the obstacles in our lives that might prevent Jesus coming close to us? Are we too busy to give him time in our lives? Do we spend enough time in prayer? Do we hear Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts asking us to invite him more and more into our lives? Or are our hearts too taken up with many concerns that do not lead to true peace and happiness? In what way may we be hiding from Jesus?
We are told that Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, to catch a glimpse of him from a distance. In order not to be seen he hides in the Sycamore tree. We can imagine how amazed he was when Jesus looks up, calls him by name and invites himself to stay at his house. God always gives more than we ask.
One of the things we notice in the story is that the initiative comes from Jesus. God always makes the first move. Zacchaeus responds generously by promising to give half his possessions to the poor and to pay back those he may have cheated
‘Zacchaeus, come down. I must stay at your house today’. How wonderful when Jesus says these words to us! Yet at every Eucharist he makes this invitation at communion. At many other times too he wishes to enter into our lives. The Book of Revelation has Jesus say in a beautiful image: “I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into his house and eat with him and he will eat with me” (Rev 3:20). Are our doors always open and ready to offer him hospitality?
Zacchaeus has no hesitation. He climbs down quickly, delighted to welcome Jesus into his house. The reaction of the crowd, however, is something else. They are deeply shocked and scandalised. “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Of all the people in Jericho, Jesus picks the house of possibly the most obnoxious and detested person in the town.
The story shows that Jesus addresses all kinds of people. No one is excluded from his call to participate in the kingdom. The kingdom is also for those who are not socially well considered or accepted, maybe today like AIDS victims, drug addicts or paedophiles. But change as in the case of Zacchaeus is called for. If anyone is excluded from the kingdom, it is because they have excluded themselves! Jesus came to seek out and save those who are lost.
Sometimes what prevents us from allowing God to come close to us is that we may think others may ridicule us for being a close disciple of Jesus. Zacchaeus was prepared to accept that ridicule of his fellow Jews but he stood his ground and responded to the invitation of Jesus.
This Sunday Jesus seeks us out too in the Eucharist. Where are we in need? Will we hear his call? Will we recognize him as he passes by in our lives? How will we respond?
“Lord Jesus, help me, like Zacchaeus, to hear your invitation to invite you more and more into my life. Help me to understand ever more clearly that you alone can fulfill the deeper needs of my heart. Amen”
Fr. Jim Kirstein SMA