For some reason a lot of my childhood is remembered through songs. It should come as no surprise that I know all of the words for the theme song of the TV show Mr. Ed.
Did you know that the song has four verses? And I use to know all the words, more out of a sense of defense than musical appreciation. Although you have to admit, the tune is quite catchy.
Another childhood song with a catchy tune was the one inspired by today’s gospel. Do you remember it? “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree, For the Lord he wanted to see”.
“And as the Savior passed that way, He looked up in the tree, And he said, “Zacchaeus, you come down from there,” For I’m going to your house today. For I’m going to your house today”.
If you remember that song then I have ruined what is left of your weekend. You will never get that tune out of your head. If you do not remember that song, or you were too little to have learned it, then see me after mass and I will sing it for you. By the way it comes with hand gestures … so fair warning.
The song not withstanding, today’s gospel is a very interesting story. Here you have Zacchaeus, probably a very successful, affluent member of the local community. He was probably not very well liked but he did not care. He had his job to do and he probably did not care much about what other people thought. So, one day he heard that this this famous preacher was coming to his little village.
Now remember, Jesus was a pretty bid deal, even in His day. He was saying some pretty controversial things, and doing some pretty amazing things, And, my guess is, people were having to take sides. Were you for Him or against Him? He had fed over 5,000 people at a single setting, with nothing more than some loaves and a few fishes. There were stories of His uncanny ability to haul in lots and lots of fish when others could not snag the smallest of guppies.
But He also had the knack for getting on the wrong side of some pretty influential people. And sometimes it was better to just keep your head down and stay out of trouble. No need to draw any unwanted attention your way. Am I right?
That was probably the thinking that was going through Zacchaeus’ head when He heard of Jesus’ visit. No sense trying to push into the crowd just to get a glimpse of this “would be” messiah. After all Zacchaeus was not a big man and probably did not like the jostling that came with large crowds. So he thought that he could get a good view, from a safe distance, if he were to climb up this sycamore tree that was along the way that Jesus was walking.
Have you ever felt that way? Let’s just keep Jesus at a safe distance. Let’s not get too close, let’s not get all worked up, or too sweaty or dirty. It is best to take Jesus in small doses, from a safe distance.
And more often than not, when we think that we have the Lord right where we want Him, He looks up into our sycamore tree and says, “What are you doing way up there? Come on down, I want to sit down and have dinner with you.”
And now you are in it. What was Zacchaeus going to do then? “Oh, hey Jesus, I didn’t even see you down there. You want me to come down? Naaa, I’m good. I always climb up this tree at this time of the day. I still have a few things to do, but listen, you have a good day.”
Too often we tend to focus on the next part of the Gospel, the part when he climbs down and tells Jesus of his plans to make amends, and to give to the poor, and to lead a good life. But the story is not about Zacchaeus. The story is about us. It is about our relationship with the Lord and why.
Today’s first reading is one of the most beautiful in the bible. When you get home put a marker in your family bible at Wisdom 11:22 and then come back Tuesday or Wednesday and read it again. When you do, stop on the third sentence and read it very carefully:
“For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours,” Zacchaeus did not have to hide up in a tree, he was not a “wee little man”, he was not judged because of what he had done or what he was doing. Zacchaeus was someone that had been fashioned by God and was loved by God. Zacchaeus was someone that was to be preserved, and spared, and was to remain because he was God’s creation. “O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!”
Wisdom 11:22 begins by putting all things into perspective. The first verse begins with, “Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from an [hourglass] or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things”.
When you look at it this way, hiding in a sycamore tree is just a little bit silly. Hiding just about anywhere is just a little bit silly. And that little simple nagging fear that somehow we are different, or not worthy, or less than adequate is ridiculous, because we have been fashioned by God. Each one of us, each individually and uniquely, “and how could a thing remain, unless [God] willed it” and unless God loved it, … unless God loved it.
The alleluia verse was from John 3:16. Next to Wisdom 11:22 (have I said Wisdom 11:22 enough for you to remember it? If you want to write it down, that is alright, I’ll wait) … Next to Wisdom 11:22 it is the second most beautiful verse in the bible.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.”
It reminds us that we are so loved, that you are so loved, that the God of the universe gave His own Son to be humbled, humiliated, whipped, beaten and crucified so that we could have everlasting life.
And the single most amazing thing of all is that He did all of this while we were still sinning. He did not wait for us to stop and say that we were sorry. He did not wait for us to climb down the sycamore tree and say that we will give back all of the things that we have taken. He did all of these things while we were still sinners.
“O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!
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.”
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