The readings for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time are underlined by the realization that God is all holy and He desires to fill us with His holiness. Furthermore, He offers us a profound desire for His holiness — the desire to be filled with His holiness!
At first, we readily take the bait, but other distractions come along and these distractions become attractions and blunt the desire for God’s holiness. We begin to give priority to the creatures of God rather than to God the Creator.
However, God has an answer for our every weakness. “But you have mercy on all, because you do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.” He calls us to repentance which helps alleviate the proclivity to sin.
Often the call to repentance is a gradual experience. “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!”
This is what Jesus does in the Gospel. There are few things we know about Zacchaeus. We know that he was not only a tax collector, but the chief tax collector in Jericho, which was an important city on the east/west trade route, and probably a customs checkpoint.
Tax collectors were known by their fellow Jews as rip-offs, because they collected taxes for Rome and they kept whatever they could get above what Rome was asking.
I am certain that at first Zacchaeus was amassing much wealth. However, when he was alone and silent, it must have bothered him that he was so isolated from the respect ordinary people have for each other.
In addition, he may have become so attached to his wealth that he felt great sorrow when the thought of the covenant in which he had been raised. That covenant taught him to love God and neighbor. He must have experienced a growing sorrow that he had neither the joy of loving God nor the joy of loving his neighbor.
He may also have heard that other sinners found relief from this wandering teacher named Jesus. Word gets around! He may have thought it was his curiosity that motivated him to climb that sycamore tree just to see the face of Jesus.
Really, it was more than that. What he did not yet know was that “No one comes to the Son unless the Father draws him!” The Father moved him to climb that tree to see the gaze of Jesus.
Remember that the gaze of Jesus at Matthew was too powerful to allow Matthew to stay at his tax collector’s booth. Not only did Jesus gaze at Zacchaeus, but He also said: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
So freeing was Jesus’ invitation that Zacchaeus immediately surrendered everything that stood between Zacchaeus and his all Holy Father. “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.”
The simple gaze of Jesus looking up at Zacchaeus freed him from self-hatred and destructive attachment to wealth. All his sorrow at missing the goodness of God was now gone! He was free. He could now be beloved by his fellow Jews. His relationship with God was restored. Where once there was sorrow and self-hatred, there now is joy and gratitude.
I’ll bet that Jesus’ conversation with His Father that night was filled with a lot of gratitude. “Thanks, Father, for sending him my way!”
We might well ask ourselves: “Why am I so attached to the things I own, the reputation I have built, the position I have in the business world? Does my lifestyle afford me much needed rest, or am I filled with restlessness and busyness?”
“Must I keep so busy so that I will never be distracted by thoughts of where my life might be going, or where I might end up after this short life? Am I working so hard so that I do not risk ever questioning anything I am doing?”
“Do I experience real sloth — not laziness — but a profound sorrow at the loss of God Himself in my life? Is that why I am running and running, without quality time to spend with my family?”
Our slothful society is filled with unending activity and achievements. We need to keep our senses busy with the endless digital distractions that the media world offers us. That is the only way we can resist the silence that would free us, as Jesus freed Zacchaeus!
Sensual pleasure gives nanoseconds of distraction but no relief from the deep ache within.
The answer to all of this is: we need to allow Jesus to call us down from our distractions and addictions to sinful habits.
It might be that the Father is calling us to “come aside and rest awhile” with His Son Jesus.
Perhaps begin by taking just 15 minutes of sitting in silence, without any noise or any reading material. I assure you this will become incredibly peaceful and rewarding, if you stay with it.
While you are silent, you can at least tell Jesus how much you miss Him because you are too busy with empty trinkets. Ask Him to help you get out of this rat race that is going nowhere. Repentance could lead you to the incredible joy Zacchaeus discovered in the glance of Jesus.