The story of Zacchaeus is fascinating. On the literary level the story is rich in detail: The unruly crowd, the short man running ahead to climb a sycamore tree, the grumbling when Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house, the dinner conversation and finally Jesus’ promise that “Salvation has come to this house.” It is easy to imagine filming this scene for a movie, the atmosphere and dialogue are already given. The only thing needed is two stars and a crowd. The story of Zacchaeus is fascinating because, to paraphrase one of the most famous lines ever to appear in a comic strip, We have met Zacchaeus and he is us. Zacchaeus is us because he is a man of contradiction and confusion, a man who doesn’t always do the right thing but who, when he becomes aware of his sinful nature, tries to atone for his sin. Zacchaues had obviously heard about this Jesus. Otherwise, why would he have been so strenuous—and even risked looking ridiculous—by climbing a tree just to catch a glimpse of him?
This story appears late in Jesus’ public ministry. His reputation had spread. The question one must ask about Zacchaeus—and thus about ourselves—is: What did Zacchaeus expect to see? Who did Zacchaeus expect to see? A miracle worker who healed the sick and the lame? A political leader? A firebrand who took on the legal and religious establishments? Who was Jesus for this man? Who is Jesus for each of us?
There is an interesting bit of wordplay in this gospel. We read that: “Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was.” A bit later we hear the words from Jesus’ lips: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” THAT is us. Those of us who seek to find, to know, to see Jesus are being sought by him more avidly than we can imagine. We need only come down from our tree to be welcome at the table of the altar. We need only descend from the perch where we are trying to catch a glimpse of the Son of Man to partake of the supper where we are assured, just as Zacchaeus was assured, “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Unlike Zacchaeus climbing trees is not one of my strengths. There were a few over in "The Field" where we hung out from about 10 to driver's license age. Several of us built a tree house about twelve feet up in an elm tree. It could have been a lot higher as it was a huge tree but this kept it accessible, particularly from a bully type (the old meaning not the contemporary one) who, while he was happy to throw rocks at the tree house was afraid to climb up. It was something of a sanctuary from his annoying behavior.
Prayer and contemplation are universal needs. They are part of being human. I suspect the saying that there are no atheists in foxholes comes from acknowledging this basic fact. Many are happy to stuff the need for prayer, for meditation, for communion in the non-Mass sense, most of the time or deny that they feel it. But, after 40 years in medicine and 17 in religious life, I stand by the statement.
An elderly Jesuit at prayer during his evening meditation. This was about thirty minutes before Mass at Pymble in Australia. I was getting ready to go in to say the office when I saw Father sitting there. My room was at the top of the staircase. I took the steps two at a time, grabbed the camera and shot about four. Father had very little vision and multiple other medical problems. But he was there daily.
A Buddhist nun at Nan Tien Buddhist temple in Berkley, NSW, Australia. We stopped there on the way to Gerroa at the very beginning of tertianship. It was an amazing place to visit. The bell gonged with a low a very resonant sound.
Longshan Temple in Taipei, Taiwan. This temple is in the oldest part of Taipei where, if one looks closely enough, one sees other evidence of age. This was New Year's Eve 2010, ten days before going to Australia. Ignatius and I went there in lieu of going to the fireworks at Taipei 101, then the tallest building in the world. Turned out to be a good move. The estimate was that there were close to 2 million people at the fireworks. We had an easy time getting home. As we both had Masses the following morning it turned out to be a prudent decision.
A young Jesuit Brother making his evening meditation at Sevenhill, SA, Australia.
A woman placing a candle in one of the chapels at ND de Fourviere.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD