31st Sunday OT Year C:
Today we hear the interesting story of the conversion of Zacchaeus. It is certainly a story of conversion. Through an encounter with the person of Christ, the tax collector is transformed. But, I think there is more in the story. It not only tells us about how Christ can call people who don't know him; but, it also tells us how Christ can help us to deepen our relationship with him.
First, look again at the first line of the gospel: Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through it. This translation is a little bit clumsy. The Greek simply says "he entered and went through Jericho." This is not just a throw-away line introducing the parable. Rather, I think it means something more profound. Jesus is passing through the city, he makes himself available, he draws near to his people. Christ is no distant landlord; rather, he draws near, he passes through the city. How much more is this true after the resurrection! Jesus is no longer bound by space and time. Just as Jesus drew near to ancient Jericho, we know that Christ draws near to each one of us. Jesus is always passing by.
Next, look at Zacchaeus. What do we hear about him? First, he is a tax collector. We heard about a tax collector last week as well. Luke is showing us these characters to remind us that Jesus associates with sinners. Remember, in Luke's gospel we hear that Jesus is the good shepherd who leaves the 99 and goes in search of the lost sheep. This story of Zacchaeus is proof of this fact. Jesus passed through Jericho to find this lost sheep. This is still true today. Jesus passes through our "town." He doesn't run away from us, even though we are sinners. Rather, he continues to look for us, to seek us out. This fulfills what we hear in the first reading: God is the great lover of souls! God loves us so much that he sent his Son to seek out what was lost.
So, Jesus comes to us. What about our end of the relationship? The gospel tells us that Zacchaeus desired to see Jesus. What a beautiful way to put it! Even the sinner, says St. Luke, desires to see Jesus. Every human being has an innate desire to see Christ!
One thing I often ponder is the preaching of Jesus. What must that have been like, to hear Christ himself? What did he say? He must have been persuasive. Would I have followed him? I hope so. Worse yet, would I have even gone out to see him? It is easy to say that we would have gone out to meet Christ, but would we? Why did Zacchaeus seek him out: he wanted to see Jesus. In the person of Christ we encounter something that resonates with us: God's great love for the world! In Christ we find our origin and destiny. In the encounter with Christ we find the God who made us. We also find in Christ the communion between humanity and divinity. This is why JP2 always quoted Gaudium et Spes 22: it is Christ who fully reveals man to himself. Jesus shows us our origin and destiny. No wonder we want to see Jesus! This is why all people are innately drawn to this mystery. This is why Jesus was persuasive. Not so much what he said, but who he is, is persuasive.
Still, Zacchaeus knew that there were obstacles in his way. The gospel says he was short of stature. He would not let this get in his way, he climbed the tree. What keeps us from seeing Jesus in our lives? We know that Jesus is passing through, we know that he is always drawing near; but, there are things that keep us from seeing Jesus. Rather than give an exhaustive list, how about I just pick one that many of us deal with: time. Many of us fail to see Jesus because we are busy, there is little time. But if we are going to have a relationship with Christ, we have to spend time with him. We have to "see" him. It might take a heroic effort, but it is worth it. Carve out some time in your life. Start small if you have to: 5 minutes in the morning, 5 minutes in the afternoon. Don't let your crazy schedule keep you from seeing Jesus. Find some time to see Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. As you probably know, we have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament here at St. Matt's every Saturday morning from 11-12 during confessions, as well as a communal Holy Hour once per month. These are wonderful ways to see Jesus.
I think we would all like to be like Zacchaeus. We would all like to be converted in the same way by having an encounter with Christ so powerful that we leave behind all our sins. This story teaches us an important lesson. Before any conversion comes a desire to see Christ, followed by an encounter with Christ. Conversion is not a product of our best effort, it is a product of Christ working within us. This is St. Paul's prayer: we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith.