YOU MUST CLIMB A TREE!
(a reflection on Luke 19:1-10)
by: Deacon Paul Rooney
I have no statistics on this, but I suspect that there are a LOT of folks out there who are convinced that if they just "believe" in Jesus, then they are Saved. But those same folks don't stop with just that thought. They are convinced that they need to do absolutely nothing more; their part is finished, and the rest is up to God. Of course, these fundamentalists will cite scripture verses such as John 3:16, which speak of believing and the salvation that follows.
There are many responses to correct such a view of a potentially very limited Christian life, and we find those correctives throughout Jesus' teachings in the gospels. Today's wonderful story of Zacchaeus is no exception. In fact, it is one of the more delightful teachings in the gospels, a very visual story that excites the imagination. When we first meet Zacchaeus, a rich tax collector, we are told that he is "short in stature." Immediately I picture him in my imagination as a short, fat, bald and bearded man. Since he is rich, and lives in that very hot desert town of Jericho, then he is probably sitting in the shade of his tax stall on a corner somewhere on main street, sipping wine all day And eating pastries that only the rich can afford. He was not liked by the townspeople, because he was a tax collector, a much-hated person because he worked for the Roman government in his occupation. The Pharisees almost always mentioned "sinners" and "tax collectors" in the same contemptuous way.
Old Jericho was a desert town way out in the middle of "nowhere"; but it was a major city because of it's location near the crossroads of two heavily trafficked roads. First, the "King's Highway" was located a little to the east (a N-S route). Second, Jericho connected to a major trade route (running E-W) that led to the Mediterranean. The Old Jericho of our story is about two miles away from modern Jericho (I have been there several times). It had an oasis, and was the first city captured by the Hebrews when they entered the promised land. So it's historical existence cannot be doubted, because all archeologists agree that it existed centuries before Jesus visited the city in our gospel story today, and the drawing indicates their understanding of the type of walls and buildings that it had at that time, based on their excavations.
Back to our story: notice what Zacchaeus does. He takes action to "see" Jesus! He runs ahead of everyone ("waddles," in my imagination), and with effort climbs up a sycamore tree–not really too difficult, since the branches of the desert variety are fairly low.
Now notice what Jesus does. He sees Zacchaeus, and invites himself to dine with him! That must have stunned the crowd following Jesus through the town. Now I am going to take that giant leap to our own day, so hang in there... J
The key to today's gospel is to recognize that Jesus always responds to our little efforts to make contact with him! We all have our "Zacchaeus moments" such as going to Mass on Sundays to adore our Lord. Mass is our "tree." We all need a tree! One of my own "trees" is the Bible. If I did not take quality time every morning to read and meditate on the scripture passages used in the day's daily Mass, I would have a frustrating day. I personally need this contact, because I need to hear Jesus talk to me; I need to hear him "invite himself" into my life–just because I chose to do something to enable that Jesus to see the welcome mat I have placed at the door of my heart.
What is your own "tree"? Remember, we all need one! How do you make Jesus feel that he is welcome? Perhaps it is simple vocal prayer for you, both praise and thanksgiving. Perhaps you pray a rosary, meditating on gospel scenes from the life of Christ. Perhaps you just sit silently in his presence, just "being with" him in silent adoration, either in your "prayer chair" at home or in a church or chapel. Whatever it is, it is your "tree" and you must water it frequently (i.e., use it) to keep it flourishing on your desert journey.
Remember, we meet Jesus in the ordinary events of our lives. We do not need to look for the spectacular to find him. He will meet us anywhere we like, if we are just welcoming. So my advice today is this: Go Climb Your Tree!
- Deacon Paul Rooney