Archive for the ‘Zacchaeus’ Category

Three Strengths of Saint Zacchaeus

October 30, 2022

31st Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

The Jews in Jericho looked down on Zacchaeus (and not just because he was short). He was a tax collector regarded as a sinner. When Zacchaeus chose his occupation he knew his neighbors would despise him. Even if he had never extorted or cheated anybody, he still would be resented for serving the unpopular political powers ruling over Israel. It’s easy to imagine him being insulted and shunned by the Jews in his territory. He needed a thick skin to do his job, caring little about what others thought of him. He was not only a tax collector but a chief tax collector, and this made him a very wealthy man. Yet his riches did not fulfill him. He was searching for something more than money and this led him to Jesus.

[Zacchaeus] 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.” Now apart from tree trimmers and deer hunters, when was the last time you saw a grown man sitting in a tree? It’s something children do, and Zacchaeus likely looked ridiculous in the eyes of the unfriendly crowd below. But “when [Jesus] reached the place, [he] 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 the crowd saw this they began to grumble, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner!” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to Jesus, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” As a wealthy man, Zacchaeus came to know how great wealth disappoints. He had developed significant detachment from his wealth, which allowed him to give up half (and perhaps much more than half) of everything he owned. And Jesus declared 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.”

Zacchaeus had these three strengths helping him to find and follow Jesus: firstly, his honest acknowledgement of his dissatisfaction in this world; secondly, his indifference towards what others thought of him; and thirdly, his healthy detachment towards his riches. Why was he “seeking to see who Jesus was?” Why was he so joyfully eager to host Jesus at his house? Because Zacchaeus could admit that he was dissatisfied, with himself and what this sinful world offers, and he believed that Jesus could help him find salvation. Zacchaeus had developed a thick skin as a tax collector. He did not care about others’ mockery, gossip, and dim opinions about him. This allowed him to climb that tree to see Jesus even if others might laugh at him as a fool. And Zacchaeus’ healthy detachment concerning riches allowed him to be generous and fulfill justice with his wealth, as our Lord wished him to do.

Let us take stock of ourselves from the example of St. Zacchaeus. Can you admit where you are not yet fully the Christian you are called to be and then present yourself to Jesus? Are you dissatisfied enough with this unjust world to hope and act for more than the status quo, to sacrifice for this world’s betterment while longing for a world to come? Are you willing to be unapologetically Catholic before others; a person, for example, willing to pray before a meal at a restaurant even if someone might see you; a Christian who does not allow others’ opinions prevent you from being openly faithful to Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church? And are you detached enough from your wealth to generously share it and serve justice with it boldly, as our Lord would have you do? In what ways is Jesus calling you to go out on a limb for him?

Obstacles to Jesus — 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

November 6, 2019

Last week, Jesus told us a parable about a penitential tax collector. This Sunday, St. Luke recounts for us a true story about real one. Jesus came to Jericho and a man there named Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man, was seeking to see him. You just heard the ending of that story; Zacchaeus joyfully succeeds in to beholding and encountering Jesus, and Jesus happily succeeds in finding and saving Zacchaeus. But Zacchaeus’ story would have ended differently if he had allowed any earthly obstacle or any human excuse to stop him. What sort of things could have gotten in Zacchaeus’s way of seeing and encountering Jesus? Many of the same things that can get in our way.

For starters, Zacchaeus could have believed or claimed that he was too busy to devote time for Jesus. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, a busy man, and this appears to have been a working business day. Faithful Jews did not walk long distances on the Sabbath day of rest. The rabbinic tradition set the limit for Saturday travel at 2,000 cubits or about ¾ of a mile. (That’s not very far.) But Jesus walked to Jericho and had intended to pass through the town, suggesting that tolls and taxes from toilers and traders and travelers were there for the tax man’s taking. But Zacchaeus made time for Jesus in his busy day.

Are we busy? I’d bet that most people would say that they are, but busy with what? Last year, the average American adult spent 3 hours and 44 minutes a day watching television; that’s more than 28 hours per week, that’s a full 56 days in a year! Maybe you don’t watch TV at home (I don’t) but how much time do we expend with games and social media and entertainments online? Whether we have time or not for something is really a question of priorities.

We just celebrated All Saints’ Day’s. Have you ever considered, if you get canonized as a saint someday, what you would like to become the patron saint of? If I get canonized I’d like to be the patron saint of packing. I have a number of reasons for desiring this niche but needed patronage, but it all goes back to a lesson from my father. One time, for an Illinois trip, he taught me how to pack a car trunk. He said, “Put the big things in first, and then fit the smaller things in around them.” So it is with life; put the big things in first. Make time for weekly Mass, daily prayer, spiritual study, and spiritual growth. Make them your priority.

Another reality that could have made Zacchaeus give up on Jesus when they got in his way was other people. “Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.” (In other words, Zacchaeus wasn’t tall.) The crowd was not only an imposing physical barrier, but a hostile obstacle as well. They all knew him by sight and despised him as a sinner. Because of Zacchaeus’s small size, they could easily and effectively block him out or even push him away from Jesus.

On this occasion, the short of statue Zacchaeus was one of the “little ones” whom Jesus warns us not to despise: “It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” And Jesus warns of great woe for anyone who causes his little ones spiritual harm: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” It is gravely wrong to push people away from Jesus through sin, but it is also a great error for us to allow others to push us away from Jesus. Jesus’ Church is holy but it’s the home of sinners, too. Do not let Judas’s betrayals or Peter’s denials, as horrible as these scandals are, keep you away from meeting Jesus here.

Zacchaeus did not let the obstacle of other people thwart him. When he was unable to penetrate the crowd, “he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.” It is debated within scripture commentaries whether is was considered undignified for a first century Jewish man to run apart from an emergency. But another embarrassing aspect of this story remains recognizable for us today. When was the last time you saw a grown man climb a tree for any reason other than to cut down a branch? Climbing trees is something kids do. When people saw Zacchaeus, the rich man, sitting in a tree on Main Street they probably pointed and laughed at him. But Zacchaeus ignored their gossip and mockery to do this for Jesus, and that made the difference for his soul.

Jesus expects us to be different from the world sometimes, both in the things we do and the things we don’t or refuse to do. And people will not always respect us or like us because of it. There are various reasons for this hostility, but a major one was noted in the second century by a Christian who wrote: “the world hates the Christians not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.” Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper before his death: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.”

Do you sometimes avoid doing good things because you’re afraid of looking too pious or of being thought of as a goody-two-shoes? Do pray before meals to give thanks to God and ask him to bless your food at home but never at restaurants? Do you avoid receiving Jesus’ absolution in sacramental confession because you’re afraid of what the priest or others might think? When and where was the last time you mentioned the name of Jesus outside of church or apart from prayer? We need to be unashamed to be Christians, unashamed to be Catholics, not cowed by peer pressure but bold in doing what Jesus desires of us.

Let’s make a quick review of the things that might have prevented Zacchaeus, or might prevent us, from seeking and encountering Jesus: believing or saying we’re too busy; obstacles from other people, their sinfulness or peer pressure; and finally, our own resistance to full or true conversion.

When Jesus reached the tree he saw a fruit hanging in it for his harvest. Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And Zacchaeus came down quickly and received him with joy. Jesus was not content to simply exchange pleasantries and then go their separate ways. Jesus says, “I must stay at your house.” This more than merely a historical detail–this is a profound utterance; the Lord desires to dwell with Zacchaeus for all his days.

In encountering Jesus Christ, Zacchaeus realizes he must change the way he lives. He can’t play host to Jesus one day and then behave like it never happened. Well, he could, that’s the temptation. He can keep clinging to his sins, but his sins haven’t made him happy. If Zacchaeus had been content with his life he would not have been trying so hard to see Jesus. Now, Zacchaeus is free to change his life with Christ, and he’s excited by the new hope set before him. Zacchaeus declares: “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.” The focus of Zacchaeus’ life has changed. No more defrauding. No more hoarding. Now, the Lord dwells in Zacchaeus’ house as his honored guest. And giving away one-half of all his wealth suggests his heart’s intention to love his neighbor as himself. And Jesus says to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.

The name Zacchaeus is a Hebrew name. It means “clean” or “pure.” While Zacchaeus was still imperfect, still unclean, still impure, Jesus called out to him by name and said “today I must stay at your house.” And Zacchaeus, by finding and knowing Jesus, became true to his name, realized his true identity, became his true self. The Lord desires the same for each of us. So allow nothing to get in your way of seeing and encountering Jesus.

Have A Holy Halloween!—31st Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

October 31, 2010

Have you ever noticed how our Christian holidays get filled with stuff that distracts us from what we’re really celebrating? Take Christmas, for example. There’s nothing wrong with exchanging gifts and decorating with tress and lights, but there is good reason in that season that we need be reminded, to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” For many people, celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace on earth is the most stressful time of the year. Or consider Easter: There’s nothing wrong with chocolate bunnies and hunting for Easter eggs, but the connection between egg-laying rabbits and Jesus’ resurrection is tenuous at best.

However, this disconnection between Christian holy days and the cultural observance of holidays is the greatest when it comes to Halloween. There’s nothing wrong with kids playing dress-up and going door-to-door to ask for candy, (I have many happy memories of this myself,) but Halloween’s connection to its Christian holy day seems to have been forgotten. The name “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows Eve,” or the evening before All Saint’s Day. Something is “Hallowed” when it is sanctified or respected, as in, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” All Saints Day celebrates the “hallowed” ones, the holy ones, the saints who are now in Heaven. Some of these saints are canonized, but most of them are not.

For every friend and relative we knew on earth who is now in Heaven, November 1st is their feast day in the Church. And for our holy dead who are still being purified and made perfect so that they may enter the fully-unveiled presence of our infinite God, there is November 2nd, the Feast of All Souls. In this fall season, when the natural world appears dying, our Church celebrates the holy dead, for we have hope in the new life.

Halloween, or “All Hallows Eve,” is to All Saints Day what Christmas Eve is to Christmas. As Christmas Eve reminds us of Christ’s coming, so Halloween should remind us of the victory of the saints, and of our own life’s calling: to become the best possible versions of ourselves, to become saints.

I think it is in no way an overreaction to observe that the secular observance of Halloween has overtones in dark, demonic things; the things of horror. Isn’t it suspicious that from a feast celebrating the saints in light, we have a secularized holiday focused on things of darkness? Instead of Christian hope in the resurrection of the dead, Halloween gives us images of zombies. Instead of the consolation that we are surrounded by the perfected souls of the saints, who love us and are full of concern to help us, Halloween gives us tales of ghosts and demons who want to harm and scare us. How does this sort of thing happen? I don’t think it is crazy to think that the Evil One wants to distract people from the true reason for this season; that the Devil would have us thinking about him, rather than the saints, that he wants us to be terrified, rather than full of hope.

Did you know that this Sunday, Satanic worshipers will come to Masses and Catholic Churches around the country trying to steal our Lord in the Eucharist? (Interestingly, they don’t go after the communions of Protestant denominations, but only the Catholic Eucharistic Hosts.) Their plan is to desecrate Jesus in a ritual they call a Black Mass. In doing this they are trying to rebel, seeking a false freedom that cannot make them happy. They try to harm Jesus, but only hurt Him in as much as they sadden Him. These sad people, who strike out at Jesus, are really hurting themselves and the Jesus still loves them. We know that the Lord loves every person He has made, for as the first reading notes, if the Lord did not love His creations, they would not continue to exist. As we see in today’s gospel about Zacchaeus the sinful tax-collector, there is hope for them and all of us, for Jesus “has come to seek and to save what was lost,” and He calls every one of us to be happy and holy with Him.

This Halloween, let us pray for the misguided persons, who knowingly or unknowingly, will dabble in bad things tonight, that they may turn to Christ. Let also offer Jesus our consolation for how the feelings of His Sacred Heart will be wounded by their offenses against His love. And for ourselves, let us try celebrating Halloween in some different ways this year.

Maybe everyone in your household already has their trick-or-treat costumes ready (but I know it can sometimes be a last minute decision.) If you’re still looking for costume ideas, how about dressing up as an awesome saint? Saint costumes can be easy and very creative. Dressing like this delights the saints (and it will probably score you more candy.)

Does your family have a patron saint? If not, then pick one this Halloween and entrust your family to them for the year ahead. Print off their picture from the internet and put it on the wall, learn about them as a family, and pray to them, asking that they pray for you. (I, for myself, am choosing St. John Vianney this year; the patron saint of priests and a good guy to know.) Great saints are waiting, just waiting, to grow in friendship with you.

This year, make it a point to celebrate the vigils and feasts of All Saints and All Souls. Our family and friends who are now in Heaven or on their way there expect us to be joyful on these feast days in their honor, and there is not better place for us on earth to draw near to them than here, around the altar of Jesus Christ.

Christ is the Light who shines through the darkness. This Halloween, let us claim the night for Jesus Christ and His saints.

Tuesday, 33rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

November 17, 2009

Imagine if the United States of America, with all its freedoms and rights, were not the United States of America, and on your way to school today, you were stopped along roadside by the secret police. They ask you for your name. You cooperate give it. Then they order you to put your hands on the hood of the squad car. They handcuff you and place you under arrest.

You ask them, “What’s going on? What have I done?” They reply, “You’re under arrest for the charge that you are a believing Catholic Christian.” You didn’t realize it, but the police have had you under intense surveillance for the past several weeks, wire-tapping your phone, monitoring your computer, searching your personal belongs, and watching all your movements and activities.

Imagine yourself in this situation. This is the question I pose to you: At your trial, when all of the evidence they have gathered is presented against you, will there be enough to convict you? Would there be sufficient evidence to find you guilty of being a believing Catholic Christian? What would they have on you?

Would they have testimony from informants that you observe every Friday as a day of penance, that you keep every Sunday as a special, day of rest, and faithfully go to Mass and frequent the sacrament of reconciliation? Could anyone testify against you that they heard you saying positive things about Jesus Christ, or that you spoke up for the Catholic faith when it was mocked or criticized in your presence? Could they put into evidence a rosary, or a Bible, or some other Catholic book, marked with fresh traces of DNA from your fingertips? Would they have hidden camera footage of you praying before meals at school or at restaurants? Would they have grainy night-vision footage of you praying before going to bed, or praying the first thing in the morning, making the tell-tale sign of the cross.

A few hours after your arrest you find yourself in a courtroom (because the “people’s” authoritarian government believes in speedy trials.) The intimidating judge looks down at you from the bench, “It says here that you were picked up on your way to the Columbus school. We have evidence of illegal Christian propaganda being taught there and we also have reliable reports that various Catholic rituals are done there, superstitions which are offensive to reason and the spirit of our times. Now I imagine that you went to that school because that’s where your parents sent you. And I’m sure that your parents would be shocked to discover that such repugnant activities as these are happening at your school.”

The judge continues, “The punishment for being found guilty of being a believing Catholic Christian is a grave one. But… if you were simply mixed-up in these activities, unthinkingly, by accident—if you were just doing them because that’s what everyone else around you was doing—well then that would be a different story. Spies and traders may come to our government rallies, but that doesn’t make them loyal citizens now does it? So just going through the motions doesn’t make you a believing Catholic at all, am I right?”

“So I can completely understand how this regretable misunderstanding has occurred. You didn’t really understand what you were doing did you? Now if you would simply formally renounce any and all belief in these silly superstitions, you may go on your way. Just sign your name here on this piece of paper testifying to that effect, and you’re free to go.”

What would you do? What do you wish you would have the courage to do? Would we have the courage to refuse to sign, just as Eleazar refused to eat? The eating of a little meat, like the movement of a pen, is a small act, but Eleazar refused and accepted an unjust death because to do otherwise would mean a rejection of the Lord, the one true God, the King of all other kings.

Now it is very unlikely that you or I will ever have to lay down our lives as red, or bloody martyrs for our faith in Christ. But, like Zacchaeus, there will be certainly times when we will have to go out on a limb for Christ. The crowd laughed to see the rich man Zacchaeus up in that tree, but what did Zacchaeus care about? His focus was totally fixed upon his connection with Jesus Christ.

Be like Eleazar, and don’t swallow whatever the world sets before you, because a lot of it is not good and can alienate you from God. Be like Zacchaeus, with the courage to go out on a limb regardless of what other people might think or say, for the sake of your relationship with Christ.

[The images for this post come from the movie Sophie Scholl–The Final Days. If you liked A Man for All Seasons, you’ll like this one too (but I’ll warn you up front that it ends the same way.)]