We Must Strive to Receive Jesus as Zacchaeus Did

Wis 11:22-12:2; 2Thes 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10

I was speaking recently to a devout Catholic who was going through a very difficult time in her life. She was experiencing a string of painful experiences one after another. When I invited her to hold on to her faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, she replied, “I have never doubted the Lord’s loving presence in my life. I only wonder what in the world He is doing.”

I believe that many of us can identify with her honest answer. Moments of darkness, pain, anxiety, confusion, etc., can make us ask, “Loving God, what are you doing in my life?”

The book of Wisdom tells us two things about God and all creation. Firstly, He is always loving towards all that He has created, no matter their insignificance, “Before the Lord, the whole universe is as a grain from a balance…But you have mercy on all because you can do all things.” He is the ever-merciful Lord of all creation.

Secondly, He is always acting to save all the souls, “You overlook people’s sins that they may repent…But you spare all things because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!” (Wis 11:22,26) He is also the Lord who labors to save souls all the time.

In Jesus Christ, the God-man, our God is loving and saving souls all the time, no matter how underserving the souls may find themselves. We find the Lover of souls doing just that in the story of Zacchaeus.

Jesus intended to pass through Jericho but He stopped and spent the entire day there because of one single soul – the soul of Zacchaeus, a soul held in bondage by a life of deceit, greed, and dishonesty. He met Zacchaeus where he was, on top of a sycamore tree, and he offered him a salvation that he did not expect.  

When the crowd grumbled about his action, He declared His eternal and unchanging purpose in all our lives, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” This is what He is doing every second of our lives, no matter the darkness or the pain that we are experiencing. Everything that He does or permits in our lives is to offer us saving love there and then. This means that He is always laboring to deliver us from the things that keep us from being and doing what God wills for us and He is giving us a new freedom to begin a new life that is centered on glorifying God and helping others do the same.

Right there on the tree, Zacchaeus recognized exactly what Jesus was doing in His life and He responded lovingly.

He, first of all, received Him there and then, without making excuses about his house not being ready to host the Lord in His unexpected visit. Imagine this – his first “Yes” to Jesus was on a treetop! Jesus surely meets us with His saving love right where we are.

Secondly, Zacchaeus received Him with joy, “He came down quickly and received Him with joy.” The man who was hated and ostracized by his fellow Israelites because of his sinful and deceitful life was overwhelmed with joy that the Holy One, the savior of all humanity, would come to dwell with him.

Thirdly, he allowed Jesus to act in his life and rearrange his priorities in life. The once greedy and selfish tax collector suddenly became generous and sensitive to the needs of the poor, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor.”

Lastly, he allowed Jesus to use him and reflect to others His merciful love. He freely went above and beyond the demands of justice in his act of restitution, “If I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord Jesus Christ comes to us all the time, no matter what we are experiencing in life, and in the most unexpected moments. He is always in the business of saving souls and He does so at every moment and in every concrete experience of our daily lives. He Himself testified that He does not have fixed office hours, “My Father is at work until now, and so am I.”(Jn 5:7) His joy is to say about us what He said about Zacchaeus, “Today, salvation has come to this house.” He longs for us to experience the joy of salvation and to witness it before others as Zacchaeus did.

Our challenge today is to receive Him as Zacchaeus did. We must receive Him promptly and without making excuses for our sinful lives. He must not find us justifying, excusing, minimizing, or ignoring our sinful lives like many do today and end up with joyless lives. We must not let our hearts become so hardened and obstinate because of the trials of life that we do not accept the merciful and saving love that He always offers us even in those difficult moments. We must always welcome Him with hope and expectation.

We must also receive Him with joyful gratitude, instead of lamenting what we do not have or what we have lost. If Jesus Christ chose to save us on the cross, then there is no human experience that He cannot act in to bring us the fruit of the cross, especially His joyful hope. We drown in the pains of life when we lack this joy of being sought for and found by the Good Shepherd.

We must also do what St. Teresa of Calcutta described as “Giving Jesus permission to act.” We cannot change ourselves no matter how hard we try. Let us give Him the freedom to completely remodel our lives and bring His own priorities into our lives. He cannot change us when we are so fixated on what we think our lives should be like.

Lastly, we must let Him use us for His own purpose. The joy of being saved slowly begins to seep into our hearts even in the darkest moments when we can trustingly echo the fiat of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:28).

Our ever-merciful and saving Lord, the Lover of souls, comes to us again in the Eucharist, the sacrament of salvation par excellence. This is where He is bodily present as He is in heavenly glory and where He relentlessly labors for our salvation. We must never receive Him casually and out of routine. Let us receive Him as Zacchaeus did and we will experience the joy of salvation today. Then we would never question what Jesus is doing at any moment of our lives.

Glory to Jesus! Honor to Mary!

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Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations' Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at  www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.

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