November 3, 2019 – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke (19:1-10)
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“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.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”
Have you been a victim of bullying and of rejection?
To be bullied or to be rejected could create a deep emotional wound in us. Because of being helpless, we could not protect ourselves from people who hurt us emotionally such as bullying and rejection at school, in our neighborhood or even at home. As a result, we do not only begin to hate those people who were bullying and rejecting us, but we also hate ourselves for being who we are. We hate ourselves because of the imperfection that people find in us.
Thus, we also begin to think that if only we are not like this, then, people might accept us and love us. This consciousness begins to develop in us until we become a person whom we are not, just for the reason of being accepted, recognized, respected and loved by people around us.
Take for example of the story of Zacchaeus. This man was surely a victim of terrible bullying and rejection. St Luke described Zacchaeus as short in stature and a wealthy tax collector. His fellows Jews hated him for being a tax collector and someone who was affiliated with the Romans. Remember, at that time, Israel was under the a foreign invader, the Roman Empire who imposed tax on them.
However, we could also ask, how Zacchaeus, a Jew, ended to the side of the Romans, working for them as a tax collector. We could actually imagine the life of Zacchaeus. Thus, being short in height, Zacchaeus as a young boy must have been a subject of bullying. Even until now, among our friends we actually make fun of people who are short or those people who do not belong to the standard of the majority like those who are too tall or too dark, etc.
Because of the physical limitation of Zacchaeus, people looked down on him. It must have been so terrible for Zacchaeus to be bullied publicly and to be hurt emotionally. Zacchaeus must have felt the pain of rejection and disrespect towards him as a person. However, he was helpless against those playmates and other people who had bullied him.
That emotional pain in him must have created a deep emptiness also within him. Thus, being bullied and rejected, Zacchaeus was in search of respect, of acceptance and of affirmation. But then, he could not gain those by just being who he was because people disrespected him for being who he was. Zacchaeus needed a way of getting his revenge. He won’t be able to get what he wanted if he would remain helpless and meek. He needed power and wealth to make those people who have bullied and rejected him to bow down to him.
Zacchaeus grabbed the opportunity the Roman Empire could offer him. The Romans were feared, though hated by the Jews, but were forced to show their respect. People had to bow down to the powerful Romans. Thus, Zacchaeus made himself available in the service of the Romans. This was how Zacchaeus got his revenge against his fellow Jews. He became the chief tax collector and becoming one also meant becoming powerful and wealthy.
Now, Zacchaeus was above those who have bullied him. Zacchaeus could now play the bully himself. As a chief tax collector, he could get his revenge by raising the tax against those people whom he also despised. Because of this, people would now please him, affirm him, and show their respect to him because he had power over them.
Perhaps, Zacchaeus would love to see the faces of those who have abused him emotionally to beg for mercy. He could now demand what he needed and force the people to accept him and pay respect to him.
However, Zacchaeus was never peaceful. He was always restless. At the beginning, this was not what he wanted but because of those pain of rejection and emotional wound, he turned out to be corrupt and a monster in the eyes of the people.
In the depths of his heart, what he wanted was complete acceptance from people which he never experienced. But then, he heard about this man Jesus. Jesus was a miracle worker, a famous preacher who healed the sick, raise the dead and forgave sinners. St. Luke described to us how Zacchaeus became curious about Jesus. This curiosity actually showed the desire of a human heart to see and encounter God. Yet, we are also confronted by the fact that it is the Lord first who tenderly seeks for us.
However, because of the limitations Zacchaeus had, not just his physical limitation of being a short man but also because of his hardened heart, his emotional wounds, his corrupt practices and insecurities, these prevented to him see the Lord. But, these limitations of Zacchaeus did not discourage him to seek further the Lord. What Zacchaeus did was to ran ahead and climbed a tree that he may see Jesus. And truly, Zacchaeus saw the Lord. And Jesus saw him and called him.
For the very first time in the life of Zacchaeus, he felt accepted and welcomed, the way he was, thus, he felt being loved. Jesus addressed him with respect and with dignity without condition, without pretensions, and without questions. This encounter with Jesus, changed Zacchaeus completely.
This attitude reminds us of every human heart’s desire to encounter the Lord. We are made for God. God is imprinted in our hearts as we are created in God’s image and likeness. Let us be conscious on that. Let us be aware that we desire God.
Yet, in our desire for God, there will be things that will prevent us to see and encounter God. This is what we find in the story of Zacchaeus.
What are those that prevent us to truly encounter God?
Perhaps, our fear and shame of admitting that we have sinned prevent us in truly meeting the Lord. Fear causes us low self-esteem and to hide because we are afraid of being judged by others, and by the people around us. Shame also prevents us to hold God’s love in our hearts and his forgiveness because we feel that we are not worthy. Our emotional hurts from the past could also hold us back especially when they hardened our hearts to be welcoming of others like that of Zacchaeus.
Our arrogance can also prevent us in meeting the Lord. Our indifference stops us from true conversion. Let us ask then, ourselves,
what are those things, addictions, or attitudes that may hinder us from truly seeking God?
The story of Zacchaeus reminds us that we have actually the capacity to overcome anything that holds us back to see God. We are called to ran ahead and overcome those attitudes that prevent us from seeing Jesus. Let us look for a tree where we can climb over our sins and fear. Look for a friend whom you can share you own problems and struggles, come to the sacraments with a heart that truly desires the Lord, only then, that we are able to overcome those that prevent us from being near the Lord.
We too are reminded in the story that though our heart desires for God,
but God desires more to see us, to be with us.
Thus, the Lord is constantly looking and searching for us. Jesus was in fact searching for Zacchaeus, searching for a sinner, indeed, we are all the Zacchaeus in the Gospel that Jesus has been searching for. Jesus desires to be with us and that we will be reconciled to him and will be healed from our past hurts and pains. Let us allow then the Lord to search us, to find us and to heal us.
Hopefully, our encounter with Jesus will bring us also into that joy of forgiveness and assurance of love from God that we are forgiven, accepted and respected. This may hopefully lead us too to repair the damage that we have caused and to make amendments for our sins like Zacchaeus who promised Jesus to give to the poor half of his possessions and repay four times over those he extorted. Hinaut pa.
Jom Baring, CSsR