By Fr. Rich, O.P.
In today’s world, celebrities are constantly assaulted by people who want to see them, paparazzi who spend their days stalking the famous and infamous, or journalists looking for a “story.” Apparently, some things have not changed. In today’s Gospel we have a scene of Jesus travelling, surrounded by a crowd that waited for him to begin to teach or heal or perhaps offer another miracle.
The story centers on Jesus taking the time to single out Zacchaeus for a particular honor; he wants to have dinner with the little tax collector. Those around Jesus likely missed the miracle that occurred: the catharsis that Zacchaeus experienced as a result of Jesus’ attention.
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give
to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from
anyone I shall repay it four times over.” (Luke 19:8)
I wonder if, in our own lives, we have missed the miracles that surround us. They are certainly not necessarily as flashy as feeding five thousand plus hungry people or healing lepers, but they are miracles nonetheless. Too often, we are so engrossed in our lives that we miss the larger dramas that surround us, dramas in which Jesus can be a central character. This Gospel challenges us to look up, look around, and look more closely. This Gospel challenges us to move outside ourselves and to be more aware.
In a world that appears to be self-destructing, I believe in my heart of hearts that the “good guys” are winning. If we turn outside of ourselves, I think that we can see those moments in which Jesus is very present.
We can participate, if we choose, in the cathartic moment when we, like Zacchaeus, wake up and dedicate our lives to the practice of generosity and mercy.
I must confess, at this juncture, that I’ve had a difficult time trying to move beyond this point in the story. The answer as to why came to me this weekend on the Awakenings retreat: Zacchaeus’ story is not finished, and neither is ours.
He was certainly energized by his encounter with Christ, pledging to a generous and kind way of life going forward. But we don’t know what happened after they shared supper. Did he go forward with his pledges? Did he follow Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem, saddened by the turn of events? Was he present outside the upper room when the Disciples, on fire with the Spirit, began to preach the “Good News”?
Did he return to his former way of life after the warmth of Jesus’ attention waned? Did the public display of generosity and penitence falter under greed and a broken nature? We don’t know. And I suppose how we answer those questions supplies insight into our own hopes.
Our own story is not nearly finished either.
How do we move forward after we encounter Jesus Christ — in the Eucharist, in Scripture, in our interactions with those around us? Are we energized, fed with the Spirit’s fire to preach the Gospel, in season and out? Do we find ourselves too easily back into our old paths and behaviors, in the comfortable ruts of easier behaviors?
Zacchaeus had to face those questions while he was recovering from his repast with Jesus. We have to face those questions as we decide how we want to live out our lives as followers of Jesus. They are questions that are not answered only once. They require an ongoing commitment to prayer, to the sacraments, and to our community.
I tend to believe that Zacchaeus was changed and followed the Savior’s path to Resurrection. And you?