In a typical classroom of elementary / primary students, a teacher ended her lesson and asked, "Can I have 2 volunteers to help me carry this pile of books down to the staffroom?" Immediately, and with great enthusiasm never granted to homework, 85% of the students raised their hands, some were even standing up and others were frantically waving their hands in the air, just hoping to be noticed and called upon. The teacher was at a loss and did not know who to pick. She scanned all their faces and picked 2 students whom she felt needed a little boost of confidence and the little nudge of acceptance and assurance. One boy ran up to the teacher without delay with such excitement in his eyes and the other, before doing the same, turned to his friends around him and gave a smug look.
It is evident that "being called upon" by someone held in high accord has the effect of confirming one's value and self-worth for these children who are well aware that they belong to a "tail-end" class and are looked down upon by their peers who are seemingly more academically inclined.
Today's Gospel about Zacchaeus is a timely reminder of the kind of faith in Jesus that we are invited to build. Zacchaeus "hurried down and welcomed him (Jesus) joyfully" when Jesus called upon him, asked him to come down from the sycamore tree, and expressed His choice of Zacchaues' house to live in that night. Like the 2 students in the class, Zacchaeus was filled with joy and excitement that Jesus, the man he had probably heard so much about, had noticed him and called upon him amidst all others in the crowd. Zacchaeus' eagerness to respond to Jesus's request was childlike and genuine. He must have been well aware of the sinfulness of his life being a public sinner as a tax collector but felt hopeful in Jesus. There must have been such a deep attraction to Jesus. Such is the childlike eagerness and excitement we are called to have towards having Jesus in our lives; that we sincerely and genuinely desire for this same Jesus, the source of all forgiveness and compassion, and we want Him to remain in our hearts for all eternity.
However, Zacchaeus was discouraged by the crowd who only knew to judge and condemn him for his sinfulness. Perhaps, if we have fallen behind in our spiritual life and decide to return to Christ, we may have experienced this little voice of guilt that reminds us very fervently of how sinful we have been and how unworthy we are to receive of God's forgiveness, mercy and love. In this, we can relate better to Zacchaeus, whom the crowd had reminded of how sinful he was. And the same invitation is extended to us as that to Zacchaeus - Are we going to be put down by these reminders of guilt or are we going to hold firm in our faith in the God of mercy and compassion? Zacchaeus chose to let nothing, not even sin, stand between him and Jesus. He was willing and ready to repent, make amends and pay his "debts" so as to be more worthy of Jesus staying at his house. What about us? What has been the factors that are standing in our way, preventing us from trusting God enough to come more fully into His presence, to be truly sorry for our sins, to ask for forgiveness and make amends for what we have done? What have we done to make ourselves more worthy to receive Christ into our hearts, though we can never be fully worthy of Him? Are we ready to give up our old and comfortable ways, and adopt the ways of Christ ever more decisively like the good example Zacchaeus has shown us?
Zacchaeus was hopeful and he repented from his sinful ways, and he had done so fittingly as the 1st reading of today also highlights to us, "Yet you are merciful to all, because you can do all things and overlook men's sins so that they can repent." We have been told time and again that God is merciful. We know that He forgives us our sins and grants us peace in our days. It is because of this faith in God that we have a reason, a purpose for our repentance. We can be forgiven. Thus, all we need to do is to rely on "the Lord (who) supports all who fall and raises all who are bowed down", as in the responsorial psalm today assures. The question to ask ourselves first is, "Do we, like Zacchaeus, want to even find out more about this Jesus and how much do we want this?" Zacchaeus wanted so much to find out about Jesus that he climbed a tree, a symbol of his initiative and effort in seeking this Jesus. And Jesus saw him (and perhaps his efforts and inner desires too), called upon him and chose him. How much initiative and effort do we want to put in into our search for Jesus? How much do we want Jesus in our lives, in our hearts? Till we get clear on these, there is no way our spiritual life and personal relationship with Jesus can ever deepen or grow.
Let's spend some time to think through the questions posed and make a decisive stand about who we want God to be in our lives. I pray that God's word and inspiration will take root in our hearts and begin to grow in us.
31 October 2010