October 30, 2022 – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Click here for the readings (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/103022.cfm)
What do I seek in life? Love and acceptance? Understanding and friendship? Comfort and contentment? Health and wealth? In seeking what matters most in our life, we could experience discouragement, rejection, failure, pain or even shame. We know that not everything we can have in life. We also know that life can be sometimes too tough and overwhelming. There are those who may just enjoy life because of the privileges they have. There are also those who at the moment of their birth, pain and struggles seemed to be never ending.
So, in seeking what really matters in our life, which may not necessarily be always material, others may resort to unhealthy and destructive ways especially when they too are not guided. Some may also be led and helped by others to come into right decisions and good discernment in life until they also discover God’s invitations for them and live a happy and holy life.
On this 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, this is something I want to share with you through an interesting biblical person, Zacchaeus, a Chief Tax Collector, hated and despised by many Jews of his time. He is quite interesting because his very life characterizes each person’s desire to seek what matters most in our life. So, allow me to journey with you today and let us discover together how God calls us.
Zacchaeus, as described by Luke, was 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.
Indeed, like Zacchaeus, to be bullied or to be rejected could create a deep emotional wound in us as well. 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. This is how we could be seeking what matters most in our life – that is, of being loved, being accepted, being welcomed for who we are.
Now, back to Zacchaeus, in the very depth of his heart, Zacchaeus was seeking to be accepted by the community, which he never experienced. However, he heard about this man, named Jesus. Jesus was a miracle worker, a famous preacher who healed the sick, raised 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.
This is what the Book of Wisdom tells us. It says, “for you (Lord) love all things that you have made… you spare all things because they are yours, O Lord and Lover of souls… for your imperishable spirit is in all things.” Further, the author of the book tells us how the Lord will confront us of our sins and calls us back to his presence because God seeks for us and desires that we may have the fullness of life. indeed, God desires our salvation, our happiness and complete joy because God sees Himself in us, for we breathe God’s breath.
This explains to us that, indeed, the longing in our heart for God and God’s longing for us is mutual. This is what we also find in Zacchaeus, the bullied who turned to be the bully.
And Luke, described to us 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 as a tax collector and insecurities. These prevented him to see clearly Jesus, when the Lord was about to pass by. But, these limitations of Zacchaeus did not discourage him to seek further the Lord. There was certainly, a deep longing in his heart. So, Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed the sycamore tree that he may see Jesus clearly. 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 conditions and without pretensions. This encounter with Jesus, changed Zacchaeus completely because at last he was loved.
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. 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?
Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians, hoped, “that the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in us.” This means that through our very person, our thoughts, actions and works, the presence of our Lord may be revealed.
This is what Zacchaeus challenges us also. Like him, each of us has actually the capacity to overcome anything that holds us back to see God clearly. We are called to run ahead and overcome those attitudes that prevent us from seeing clearly Jesus. Let us look for a sycamore tree where we can climb over our sins and fear. Look for a friend whom you can share you own problems and struggles. Seek the guidance and direction from people who can truly help you. Come to the sacraments with a heart that truly longs for the Lord, because 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 to others 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. A sign of true repentance and conversion and of a heart that has found what really matters most. Kabay pa.