Going Out on a Limb by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
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."
To the modern mind, with its muddled way of thinking, all religions are essentially the same. They are all about man's search for God. Of course, this view of religion misses the essential difference of Christianity. (And Jews, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists would perhaps disagree somewhat strongly about the sameness of their religions). True, every religion addresses man's longing and search for God. But Christianity is also - and more so - about God's search for man. God has not left us on our own, sentenced to find Him by dint of our own efforts and without any help from Him. Rather, He has come in search of us, come into the world "to seek and save what was lost" (Lk 19:10).
Zacchaeus discovered this truth in a dramatic manner. The little we know about him is sufficient to paint a powerful picture. He was a tax collector, and therefore an outcast - not just because no culture likes tax collectors, but also because tax collectors in Our Lord's day were notoriously crooked. He was wealthy, and therefore the object of envy for those whose money he took. Finally, he was short and therefore an easy target for those who wanted to take a jab or a push at the wealthy official who took their money. The crowd was not a safe place for him to be.
Nevertheless, Zacchaeus's heart, like every human heart, sought God. He "was seeking to see who Jesus was" (Lk 19:3). So this little official, a most likely object of scorn and ridicule, ran ahead of the crowd and made himself look more ridiculous and even childish: he, a grown man, climbed a tree. Once up in the tree, he found himself out on a limb - on one that would not break. For the man he sought also sought him. "Jesus looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house'" (Lk 19:5). These words convey that startling truth that God has not left us on our own to find Him. He has entered the world to find us. He seeks us even more than we seek Him.
The Catholic life at times may feel like going out on a limb. "Will it hold?" we might ask. That is, will the Church's teachings, her sacraments, her way of life bring me what I really seek? Is it worth the risk of leaving the safe, sturdy ground and climbing up there to take a look? Going out on this limb requires two things.
First, it demands that we "turn and become like children: (Mt 18:3). There is something wonderfully childlike about climbing a tree. We typically associate it with children. In "The Sound of Music" when we see the von Trapp children singing in the trees, we know their childhood has been restored. A child knows that he is too small to see over the crowd. He needs help; he needs to climb up on someone's shoulders, or up a tree. If our self-importance and pride so enchant us that we refuse to do as children, if we think we can see on our own, then we should not hope ever to see Jesus. Only when he became like a child was Zacchaeus able to see. Only then did he discover his identity as a descendant - a child - of Abraham (cf. Lk 19-9).
Second, going out on a limb requires confidence that the reward is worth the risk. Any child (or anyone childlike) knows the fun of getting high up in a tree to enjoy the view. But you have to take a risk to get the view. Zacchaeus risked his physical safety (and his dignity) to get a view of Jesus. The risk paid off. He gained not only the view, but the reward of knowing that Christ was seeking him. If through complacency, timidity or pusillanimity we refuse to risk everything to see Jesus - if we hold back in our prayer and pull back from the adventure of sanctity - not only will we never see Him, but we will never experience the surpassing joy of knowing that He is first seeking us.
Christ has taken the initiative by coming to our town, that is, into our lives. But because of our small spiritual stature we have to become like children and take a risk in order to see Him. We have to climb a tree and go out on a limb to find the One who desires to find us, who has come "to seek and save what was lost."
Please consider a tax deductible gift to support this web site.
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index