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Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

“… the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Lk: 19:10

Whenever I read this Gospel account, I remember a story I once heard. It goes like this:

One bright, sunny day, a knight in shining armor was galloping down the road on his big white stallion when suddenly he spotted a tiny sparrow lying flat on his back, in the middle of the road, with his legs sticking straight up into the sky.
The knight thought this was a bit odd, so he reigned in his horse, climbed down, walked up to the sparrow and said:

“Tiny little sparrow, what are you doing lying here in the middle of the road, flat on your back, with your legs sticking straight up into the sky?”

“Well,” said the sparrow, “I heard the sky was falling and I want to do everything I can to hold it up.”

“Why that’s preposterous,” said the knight. “With those scrawny little legs of yours, you’re going to hold up this entire sky?”

“Well,” said the sparrow, “one does what one can.”

One does what one can.

I like to think that tiny little sparrow’s response is somewhat like the man “of short stature” in today’s Gospel reading was saying to himself “when he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.”

Zacchaeus was doing what he could.

And yet to the people where he lived, what Zacchaeus was doing seemed unlikely to the point of impossible. He not only was a tax collector and a thief; he not only was in collusion with the dreaded Roman empire … he was the “chief” tax collector, and he was “a wealthy man.”

To the ordinary people of Jericho who were regularly being gouged by tax collectors, Zacchaeus was despicable, even hated.

In their minds, there was no way he would possibly be interested in someone like Jesus, not to mention going to the extreme of running ahead of the crowd and climbing a tree to see him, and then scandalously welcoming Jesus into his home! Impossible.

Unheard of.   

But it happened … because Zacchaeus was curious and courageous.
Like the knight in shining armor, Zacchaeus was amazed that some poor, homeless prophet could command the attention and respect of so many people. He simply had to see for himself what the fuss was all about.

So, rather than climbing down from a high horse, Zacchaeus climbed up a tall tree.

What he then discovered was a revelation:
Jesus presented a picture of God the likes of which Zacchaeus never dreamed possible – a God who not only welcomes blind beggars and embraces prodigal sons, who not only heals cripples and lepers and goes in search of one lost sheep, but who also dines in the home of greatly despised sinners.

Even a chief tax collector.

In fact, what Zacchaeus further discovers is that Jesus mirrors a God who reaches out and invites him:
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your home.”

Notice: Jesus doesn’t say I “want” to stay, but I “must” stay at your home. There’s an urgency. There’s a demand. There’s an imperative.

What this compelling story shows us is one thing:
That a whole new way of thinking, a whole new way of dreaming, a whole new way of living is within the reach of everyone, anyone – even the most public of sinners.

Jesus himself is telling us through this story that transformation, change, being open to new ways of living never dreamed possible is available to all of us – no matter our past, no matter the weight of our sins.

Jesus wants to dine with everyone.

All, everyone – even the despised and detested – are invited into his reign of peace and justice and mercy.

There is one catch, though.

Like Zacchaeus, we have to be open to change. Our hearts have to be ready for transformation. We have to share in the curiosity and courage that impelled Zacchaeus to run ahead and climb that tree.

He didn’t care if he made a fool of himself. He had to know. He had to see for himself.

Consider Zacchaeus’ response when Jesus says, as he does to each of us, I “must stay at your house.”

The Gospel tells us:
“Zacchaeus came down quickly and received him with joy.”

Such transformation, such soul change, occurred in the heart of Zacchaeus that he couldn’t contain himself a minute longer. With a new-found passion, he announced:
“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.”

Conversion, renewal, the dream of a new beginning washed over him. A rich and corrupt man is not only willing, but now takes joy in the prospect of transitioning to a brand-new way of being human.

His blindness is healed. His heart softened.

Zacchaeus, the former money man, discovers a brand-new investment outlet for all his many resources:
The reign of God. 

“One does what one can,” the tiny little sparrow reminds us.

Zacchaeus really got that.
The question you and I are left with is:
Are we doing what we can?

Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.

Art by Jim Matarelli
Sister Rachel’s Quote of the Week

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