Today’s reflection is for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 3, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.
Some of you may remember the song, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see…” (Let’s try that together…)
Zacchaeus was a wee little man (repeat), and a wee little man was he. (repeat) He climbed up in a sycamore tree (repeat) for the Lord he wanted to see. (repeat)
We have much to learn from Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel. The first is that Zacchaeus was not perfect—in fact, far from it, and often so are we. The second is that Zacchaeus strove mightily to see the Lord, even to the point of climbing a tall sycamore tree, and so should we. And finally, Zacchaeus joyfully accepted Jesus’ request to enter his home—and it changed his life forever, and so must we.
Interestingly enough, the Hebrew name Zacchaeus literally means, “clean and pure.” But we know from the Gospel today that Zacchaeus’ life was far from being either clean or pure. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and a sinner. Tax collectors in Jesus’ day worked for the Roman government, which was an occupation force in Israel. So not only were tax collectors working directly for the people oppressing God’s people, they openly added extra money for themselves, and used force to collect it! Zacchaeus became rich on the backs of his own overtaxed, hard-working, countrymen. Hardly clean. Hardly Pure.
But the truth is that whether we like it or not, we can be a lot like Zacchaeus. Too often we tend to look out for number one, to be selfish and greedy, and often at the expense of our own countrymen, our friends, or our family members. I’m not going to stand up here and lie to you…I eat my children’s candy, and I eat more than my fair share of the cookies! Just last week my wife made twelve cookies. That’s three cookies each for the four of us…I ate 6 before the kids even woke up the next morning! Sometimes we’re selfish, but Jesus calls us to be self-less.
Although Zacchaeus was selfish and sinful, he strove mightily to see the Lord, right there in his own town. The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was vertically challenged so he knew he’d better find an elevated place! It says, “for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up.” Isn’t that beautiful, Zacchaeus knew who he was, knew his weakness, and his need and took off running! Zacchaeus knew he was a, “wee little a man, and wee little man was he.” He didn’t whine about it. He didn’t complain. He didn’t say he was a victim and start looking for sympathy, and he didn’t ask the whole crowd to take a knee so he could see. No, he just started running and climbing.
You might not know that the sycamore tree has existed on the earth for more than 100 million years! A single tree can live up to 600 years old and grow up to 130 feet tall. Now I don’t know how tall the one was in Zacchaeus’ village, but I know that Zacchaeus was willing to do the hard work of climbing it so that he could see Jesus. Like Zacchaeus, we too need to run and strive so that Jesus doesn’t pass us by.
Many of us are taking things a little too slowly, procrastinating, getting distracted, and wasting precious time. Life is short, we’ve gotten out of shape, we have a long way to run and a tall tree to climb if we hope to get the invite. We must get our priorities straightened out while there’s still time—build our spiritual muscles—too many of us aren’t running and aren’t striving. We strive when we pray daily, read a Catholic book, attend reconciliation and Mass, read the Bible, spend time with family in service opportunities, volunteer at “We Care,” or the Salvation Army serving the homeless. It is in these moments, and in that service that we see Jesus face to face. It is in the midst of the struggle that Jesus sees us and asks us to take him home with us.
Zacchaeus was not perfect, but he strove mightily, and his life was changed forever. We hear that people began to grumble when Jesus went into Zacchaeus’ home. I guess it was no different then than it is today, “Haters gonna hate!” I love that Zacchaeus received the Lord with great joy and couldn’t care less what anybody else thought about it. Zacchaeus saw the face of God, accepted Him into his home, and the change in Zacchaeus’ lifestyle provided the evidence of the change.
St. Ambrose said that there are two conversions in the Church, namely, water and tears. The first, he said, is the water of baptism where we are converted to God for the first time, and the second, he said, are the tears of repentance where we return to God again and again. (C.C.C. 1421) The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that, “Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversation to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. It entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace.” (C.C.C. 1431)
That day Zacchaeus gave away half of everything he owned and pledged to return four-fold any money he had taken that wasn’t his to take. We might not be called to give away half of our wealth, but we may need to apologize if we have hurt someone. We may need to start dedicating more of our resources to God and the Church community. We might need to commit ourselves to daily running and striving mightily to see the Lord.
“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see…”
The name Zacchaeus means ‘pure’ or ‘innocent’, which is exactly what we are called to be. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus didn’t live up to his name, and too often neither do we. After Jesus reached out to him, Zacchaeus changed his ways and went above and beyond to make things right. He finally overcame his past and lived up to his name, and so can we. God bless.