When have your found yourself up a tree? Perhaps it’s when we find ourselves in a difficult situation and can’t seem to find a way out. The idea is to climb down … in other words, to find a solution. In this weekend’s Gospel story, Zacchaeus does just the opposite. He goes up a tree to solve his problem. So, what’s not to like about this Zacchaeus story? All kinds of things might feed our imagination. A “wealthy man” throws aside all social propriety and does what an enthusiastic child would do – he climbs a tree! And he doesn’t pick an easy tree – he climbs a sycamore tree, a very tall tree … a tree that doesn’t have any branches close to the ground. He chooses a very difficult way to get what he wants … “to see who Jesus was.” And in the process, he gets more than what he climbed the tree for – Jesus tells him, “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Zacchaeus’ short stature kept him from seeing Jesus with his physical eyes. His ardent desire to encounter Jesus, however, indicates that he had already seen Him with the eyes of his heart. Encountering Jesus does not depend upon the goodness of one’s life but encountering Him can bring about conversion of life. Zacchaeus chooses to put his life in right order. For this reason, Zacchaeus and his household both come to salvation. Encountering Jesus and choosing to put our own life in right order brings us to that same salvation. We only need to see Jesus with the eyes of our heart wide open.
All of us are invited to salvation. Those are saved who seek Jesus (Zacchaeus made the first step when he climbed the sycamore tree to see Jesus) and are open to being sought by Him (Jesus stayed at his house). Those are saved who change their lives when they encounter Jesus. Just seeing Jesus isn’t enough. Encounter must lead to a faith relationship that makes a difference in our lives. Moreover, since Jesus continues His saving mission through us His disciples and followers, we must be equally responsive to others. We must put our own affairs in order and care for those in any need. We must also live in such a way that when others encounter us, they encounter Jesus.
Zacchaeus is the last person Saint Luke mentions before Jesus enters Jerusalem – it is as if Saint Luke chooses to end his Gospel account with a memorable story about why Jesus came: “For the Son of Man has come to seek ... and to save what was lost.” If “salvation has come” even for this short tax collector, a person who would have been despised by his own people for working with the Romans, who then would ever be excluded?
Most of us don’t have to be so creative or go to the extreme of climbing a tree to encounter Jesus. However, this weekend’s Gospel forewarns us that we ought to not be complacent about our spiritual lives. Zacchaeus reminds us that we must also be always willing to change and to grow and to be vigilant about our relationships with others … since those relationships serve as a barometer of our relationship with God. Creativity in seeking Jesus might mean that we are innovative in our personal prayer life rather than continually reciting the prayers we might have learned long ago. What prayers might better meet our spiritual needs now so that we can grow in our relationships? It might mean that we keep certain days of the year (perhaps the days of the Triduum or some days during Advent) as a “mini retreat” in order to diligently seek Jesus and a better relationship with Him. It might mean that we don’t wait for people to come to us and ask for help but that we notice others’ needs and offer to help before they ask. In these and countless other ways we encounter Jesus – and salvation comes to our house.
May Saint Michael the Archangel defend, guide, protect, and intercede for us always!
~ Fr. Larry