Seeking To See

zacchaeus-1When do we find ourselves up a tree? When we are in a difficult situation and can’t seem to find a way out. The idea is to climb down, to find a solution. In this gospel story, Zacchaeus does the opposite. He goes up a tree to solve his problem. What’s not to like about this Zacchaeus story? All kinds of things feed our imagination. A “wealthy man” throws aside social propriety and does what an enthusiastic little kid would do—he climbs a tree! And he doesn’t pick an easy tree—he climbs a sycamore tree, a very tall tree, one without branches
close to the ground. He chooses a very difficult way to get what he wants: “to see who Jesus was.” And he gets more than he climbed for—Jesus tells him, “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Zacchaeus’s 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 does Zacchaeus come to salvation. Encountering Jesus and choosing to put our own life in right order brings us to the same salvation. We only need to see Jesus with the eyes of our hearts 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. 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 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. [Living Liturgy, 2013]
Most of us don’t have to be so creative or go to the extreme of climbing a tree to encounter Jesus. However, this gospel forewarns us that we ought to not be complacent about our spiritual lives. Zacchaeus reminds us that we must also always be willing to change and grow and be vigilant about our relationships with others, for these are barometers 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.
[artist: Joel Whitehead]

See The Salvation of God

forgiveSaved by the bell! The firefighter saved the baby from sure death. The relief pitcher saved the game. We hear the word “save” frequently in our everyday chatter, and know immediately what it means: to be rescued from a bad situation, from danger, from an unwanted outcome. This Sunday’s gospel doesn’t have the word “save,” but instead “salvation.” What does it mean to “see the salvation of God” that Isaiah the prophet foretold? Here the meaning of “save” is not quite so straightforward. Much more is promised than being rescued. In fact, what the gospel is about is not so much being saved from as being saved by and for.
Let’s be honest: it’s not just the busyness of Christmas preparations now in full December fury that distract us from our ongoing work of repentance and forgiveness. Every day of the year we tend to be distracted by mountains of work, paths of indecision, valleys of doubt and fear. Like John the Baptist, we are to hear “the word of God” that comes to us, that challenges us to embrace a more Godlike way of living, that not only promises salvation, but shows us the path to it.
Changing our lives to live more faithfully Gospel values is not easy. Nor do we ever get to a point in our daily living when we have arrived at the mountaintop and no longer need to act on God’s word, change our minds about what is most important to us, open ourselves to God’s forgiveness of our wrongdoing and learn how we in turn forgive others. This is the path to salvation. Not an easy one. But a rewarding one.

Salvation Has Come

zacchaeusAs camp counselors at Father Kane’s Camp in Lake Milton, we taught the campers a song about Zacchaeus: “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. And as the Savior passed that way he looked up in the tree. And he said, ‘Zacchaeus, you come down! For I’m going to your house today.  For I’m going to your house today.'”
When I think about the story, I  picture a short man, unable to see above the crowds, climbing a tree in order to see Jesus. The focus of my  storytelling is often on the first part of the story, where Zacchaeus overcomes his height disadvantage and has an encounter with Jesus.
The real focus of the story, however, is the second part, where Jesus dines in Zacchaeus’ house and Zacchaeus promises to give half of his possessions to the poor, as well as refund those he defrauded four-fold. Encountering Jesus brings about conversion. Zacchaeus’ new found concern for others is a sign of encounter with Jesus who brings salvation.
Every day, Jesus continues to seek and to save us by coming to us and moving us beyond where we are. We respond to his presence through the everyday opportunities that present themselves- when we seek reconciliation with one who has hurt us, when we reach out to the stranger or alienated among us, when we overcome our fears and risk speaking out in the face of injustice. Then our joy arises from receiving Jesus and letting ourselves be transformed by him.