3 November 2019
2 Thessalonians 1.11-2.2
Some years ago I visited a family I knew. At that time the couple had 4 children all under 9 years old. One day the kids asked me to play the game of Hide and Seek which was a bit unfair since I am rather tall and hard to hide! Yet I could hardly refuse. Each person had the turn of being the seeker whilst the other 4 of us would hide. The winner was the one who was last to be found. No matter how often we played the winner was always their 6 years old daughter. She had the great ability to find the most unlikely places to hide.
In the gospel today no one expected a senior tax collector, a very wealthy and prominent man in Jericho to try to hide 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 were a corrupt group, well known for exploiting their own people and becoming rich as a result.
We are told that he just 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. He was determined to see Jesus. We can imagine how amazed he was when Jesus looks up, calls him by name and invites himself to stay at Zaccheus’ house.
What of us? How determined are we to see Jesus, to come close to him? Zaccheus 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?
One of the things we notice in the story is that the initiative comes from Jesus. God always makes the first move. Zaccheus responds generously by promising to give half his possessions to the poor and to pay back those he has cheated. Last Sunday in the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, the tax collector prayed with genuine humility and contrition. This week Zaccheus demonstrates the further step of concrete action. He will make amends. So Jesus’ presence to Zaccheus has a positive and concrete impact on his lifestyle: he starts to give and share.
The story shows that Jesus also addresses the rich. No one is excluded from his call to participate in the kingdom. Jesus’ invitation to the rich man is an invitation to cease to be rich in the sense of hoarding for himself at the expense of others. The parable underlines that Zaccheus is a tax collector and so despised by his fellow Jews. The kingdom is also for those who are not socially well considered or accepted, maybe today like AIDS victims, drug addicts or pedophiles. Jesus does not exclude anyone, even the greatest terrorists in this world! But change as in the case of Zaccheus 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.
“Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a Son of Abraham” In other words being a child of God or a brother or sister of Jesus is not a matter of blood, race or culture. It is the fruit of a response to a call; sharing and living as a brother or sister of others. The Good News is that the God of our faith is the one who always forgives and who wants all people to put their trust in him.
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. Zaccheus was prepared to accept that ridicule of his fellow Jews but he stood his ground and responded to the invitation of Jesus.
Some time ago I met a man who appeared to his friends to be a very confident person, he was well off, had a very well paid job and was very popular. Yet when he revealed a bit about himself to me it was obvious that something was lacking in his life. On the outside he appeared to his friends as very self-assured and confident but on the inside that was not the reality. He was a man in need. In the parable Zaccheus was a man in need too. The crowd did not see it but Jesus did. Need always drew Jesus to people. He sensed Zaccheus was longing for something he did not have. And he sensed that in Zaccheus there were great possibilities ready to respond to the quickening touch of God’s love.
This Sunday Jesus seeks us out too in the Eucharist. Where are we in need? Will we hear his call? How will we respond?
“Lord Jesus, help me, like Zaccheus, 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