We have all read and heard the story of Zacchaeus, the short tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus when Our Lord passed through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem ( Luke 19: 2-4). As the story goes, Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed the tree knowing that this was the only way he would be able to see Our Lord. When Jesus passed by the tree, He called out to Zacchaeus by name and called him down, for He intended to visit his house. As would be expected, the crowd was shocked once again that Jesus, a Jew, would supposedly stain Himself by being the guest of a tax collector.
As is often the case, there is a powerful lesson to be learned in this story which transcends the simplicity of the narrative. To begin with, tax collectors were despised as corrupt traitors who stole from their own to serve themselves and the oppressive Romans. Our Lord, however, sees what is in the heart of the person, and He knew Zacchaeus was a good investment. As was always the case, Jesus did not measure by the standards of this world but by the insight of God. We are certainly not God, but we can emulate Our Lord by refusing to judge a book by its cover.
Secondly, Zacchaeus refused to let the obstacle of his short stature get in the way of his desire to see this Jesus with his own eyes. Others might have used their height as an excuse to give up, or let others describe Our Lord to them. They might have let their circumstances dictate their response to Our Lord’s call. How often do we let circumstances become obstacles and obstacles become excuses?
Third, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd in order to find the most effective and favorable place to overcome his obstacle. Sometimes, our greatest obstacle is failing to anticipate the very obstacles and issues that will befall us. Many people suffer from obsession with the past, which they cannot change, and the regrets that bubble from such obsession. Others are chained to the present, only focused on the here and now and what they can gain in the immediate present. Zacchaeus reminds us that following Our Lord often means that we have to think long-term, anticipate, and plan ahead. Serving God and others is often a question of proactively looking for opportunities to love, not waiting passively for such chances to arise. Great saints like Mother Teresa did not sit back and wait; they reached out in love and stepped outside of their comfort zones.
Fourth, Zacchaeus was willing to climb a tree to see Jesus. He was willing to elevate himself away from the everyday perspective of others. He knew that staying grounded, while seemingly safer, was far more risky to his ultimate goal of seeing Christ himself. Do we prefer to stay too grounded, and too safe? Are we willing to climb out of our usual perspectives to get closer to Jesus?
Finally, when Jesus called out to Zacchaeus, and expressed His intent to visit with him, Zacchaeus quickly came down from the tree, eager to obey and follow Our Lord. Do we cultivate an ability to transcend and rise above the world yet likewise become grounded in Christ? Do we realize that getting closer to Christ often means being able to both rise above obstacles and ground ourselves in His example?
As we walk through our journey on this temporary stop toward salvation, let us harness our inner Zacchaeus and be willing to identify, overcome, and transcend our shortcomings in order to answer Christ’s call to love and service !!
2016, Gabriel Garnica