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Father Muench Says...

Story of the little man in a tree: our story

Nov. 9, 2016

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

I was so pleased that the story about Zacchaeus, the tax collector, was the Gospel reading on a recent Sunday.  This story is one of my favorite Gospel readings.  Zacchaeus has become one of the more delightful characters in the Gospels and his story has a message for us all today.

I am sure you can imagine what it all looked like with Zacchaeus climbing up that sycamore tree. He was a short man which was a good thing. Otherwise, he would not have had to climb up a tree in order to have a good look at Jesus and might have been lost in the crowd.  Jesus would have never noticed him.

I see a lesson in all of this.

Somehow seeing Zacchaeus up in that tree, Jesus knew it was the perfect time to do something a bit dramatic. I am sure it was a risk for Jesus.  Would Zacchaeus react poorly?  However, Jesus recognized something special about Zacchaeus. 

As you remember, Zacchaeus was not exactly a respectable person – he was a tax collector and a wealthy person.  He was not well liked by his neighbors.  Yet, Jesus singles him out for his attention.  Zacchaeus proved to be open and ready.

I believe that the Zacchaeus’ story is our story.  Jesus wants to notice in us what he noticed in Zacchaeus, each and every day.  Jesus looks to our faith; Jesus looks to us for a heart that is open to God’s love.  Jesus wants to be with us in love.

I believe that Jesus reaches out to us every day.

Just as it was with Zacchaeus, such an experience with Jesus will always be a complete surprise.  When we live with faith – a strong and alive faith – we will be able to recognize Jesus as he strives to enter our life and our heart.

We should be open to God’s surprises every day.  The Lord may come in all sorts of ways – ways that God choses – ways that are truly surprises.  It could possibly be at Mass, or in prayer; another person could bring the Lord to us. It could just be a time when walking out of doors, sometimes just a quiet moment.

Like Zacchaeus, we will know when the time comes if our heart is open and loving. We will know exactly when Jesus wants to come to invite us to stay with him.

What did Jesus recognize in Zacchaeus?  Thinking it over, I suspect that Jesus looked up in that tree and recognized a certain humility in Zacchaeus.  Jesus saw a child-like spirit.  This man, despite his wealth, was able to be little; he was actually child-like.  He was open for conversion.

Many spiritual writers have encouraged Christians to be child-like, to be little in the sight of God.  This means developing a spirit of humility so Jesus can find an opening, so that he can become part of our lives. 

Humility means that we honestly know ourselves, that we recognize our path to become a good person, a Christ-like person.

My friend, Catherine Doherty, says this – “What you do matters – but not much! What you are matters tremendously.”

Jesus recognized that quality in Zacchaeus. He recognized that Zacchaeus knew what he hoped to be and was not afraid to change, not afraid of conversion.

I suspect that like you I was quite surprised by Zacchaeus’ conversion. Remember, “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.”

Wow! This is truly immediate conversion.  Is that what the Lord expects from us?  I think so.  It may never be quite as spectacular as with Zacchaeus, however, I am certain something must happen when we meet the Lord, when the Lord comes to be with us.  Jesus will guide us to know what it is that will truly transform our lives into what they should be.

What will happen?  It may be something that must be removed from life that blocks our relationship with God  or possibly, something we should be doing to make our friendship with God so much closer.  These are often small things  yet, they will be real conversions. 

These little steps are the miracles of the Christian life.  

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