Stories are powerful teaching tools. Any attentive reader of the Gospels would notice that our Lord Jesus Christ would often use stories in the form of parables to convey essential messages because they are easy to recall. When you remember a story, you would not forget the message. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. An ideal storyline has a hero (or protagonist), who might start as a victim of the circumstances created by a villain who appears to dominate at first but ends up badly.
We are beginning this reflection by referring to the power of stories because the life of every one of us is a story, and we are co-authors with God. While God sets the scene of the story, which we cannot control, we make the choices about the characters that would play the lead role in the various stages in the story. So, we primarily write our story leveraging the choices we make in life. Everyday constitutes a new page, and each year represents a chapter. The last chapter concludes our existence on earth.
The Gospel Reading today (Luke 19:1-10) tells us about a significant scene in the story of Zacchaeus, a wealthy chief tax collector who shows up when our Lord Jesus Christ was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. He appears for one reason; To See Jesus. He could have heard about the revolutionary religious teacher in the region, and he wanted to see him. He could be wondering how Jesus was able to convince his colleague, Matthew, to leave the lucrative tax business (Matt. 9:9).
However, two obstacles stand on his way. One is personal to him; his smallness and the other is external, the large crowd. Did he give up? Nope. He heads towards a sycamore along the way Jesus Christ would pass, and sitting on that spot, our Lord Jesus meets him and graciously requests to be his guest. We shall be looking at the two obstacles on the way of Zacchaeus as he strives To See Jesus.
The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was short in stature. The latter description shows that Zacchaeus possesses an attribute that is fundamentally limiting. It would be beneficial to our reflection to understand this shortness beyond the physical. Often, we carry with us attitudes and dispositions that limit our view and perception of the essential values we need in our lives, including God. Hence, we have moral, mental, and spiritual shortness in addition to the physical.
Most times, you may turn out to be your worst enemy. Those times when you feel that you are too small to get to a certain point. Those moments when all you see is failure instead of success, and when you believe in “I can’t” more than “I can.” The highest imprisonment is the one you give yourselves. These go back to the mindset. The choices you make in life determine how you direct the story of your life either as a victim or a hero.
The Crowd Effect
The highest gathering of people so far in history has been in the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage in India, which features more than 120 million people in two months. The crowd stands as a great limitation to seeing, moving, and hearing. There are numerous instances in the bible were the crowd constituted a hindrance.
God prohibits following the crowd to do wrong (Ex. 23:2). John the Baptist called the crowds brood of vipers (Luke 3:7). The crowd accused our Lord Jesus Christ before Pilate (Mark 15:8-15). Woman with the issue of blood had to struggle through the crowd to touch the garment of Jesus (Luke 8:42-43). The crowd hushed Bartimaeus while he was calling out to the Lord for mercy (Mark 10:48).
Overcoming the Self and the Crowd and Climbing the Tree of Salvation
The narrative about Zacchaeus would have been ineffectual if he gave up in the face of his self-limitations and the obstacle from the crowd. Zacchaeus did not accept the accident of his dwarfism nor the discouraging wall of the crowd as he heads towards the sycamore tree that stands along the path our Lord was going pass.
The first lesson we could learn from Zacchaeus is the ability to look beyond the current situation of our life. There is a need for us to strive towards that which lies ahead always. Overcoming limitations is a choice you make. Zacchaeus could have given up and returned to his office, but his hunger to see our Lord Jesus Christ made him beat both his self-limitation and the barricade of the crowd.
The sycamore tree is very vital in this narrative. Zacchaeus’ instant surveillance aided him to locate the sycamore tree at a distance, and his preview of the procession revealed to him that Jesus Christ would pass through that route. We could call this geographical awareness, but it has spiritual resonance for us.
The sycamore tree with Zacchaeus on it turns out to be an attractive billboard that caught the attention of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the point of climbing the sycamore tree, Zacchaeus’ stature and the obstacles of the crowd became irrelevant as out Lord stops to converse with the wee little man in the presence of the crowd that posed a barrier for him earlier. There was an instant reversal of the situation.
The high point of the dialogue between our Lord Jesus Christ and Zacchaeus was our Lord’s disclosure of his intention to stay in his house, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house”; sounds like an obligated self-invitation. Remember that Zacchaeus set out to seek the Lord, and the Lord found him. The word of God says that those who seek me will find me if they seek me with all their hearts (Jeremiah 29:13).
Note that the crowd followed Zacchaeus to his house and still tried to dissuade him but refused to be intimidated. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not only come into the house of Zacchaeus but also into his soul. Our Lord’s transformed Zacchaeus as he promises to give half of his possession to the poor, and with the other half pay those, he extorted four times over; that means with interest and more.
Moving Forward and Rewriting our Story like Zacchaeus
We all share in the story of Zacchaeus in one way or the other. Sometimes we contend with various self-limiting factors that could be physical, behavioral, moral, or spiritual. At some other moments, we battle with the crowd effect, which could come in the form of people and events around us that retard us from reaching out to the Lord, who is ever ready to go into our hearts to renew us from our sinfulness. The First Reading (Wisdom 11:22-12:2) tells us among other things that God loves us and would spare us because we belong to Him
One of the great privileges we have in scripting our life story is that God gives us a pencil with an eraser so that we can erase and rewrite our story before a chapter ends. Zacchaeus was apt to change the narrative of his life by overcoming his self-limitation and the crowd effect.
You can do the same for your life. Your current situation can only define you if you choose. The difference between where you are and where you intend to be is what you do. Furthermore, it takes focus and commitment, like in the case of Zacchaeus, for you to get there. Do not allow the following things to limit you:
Your present condition. Nick Vujicic was born without limbs, but he is one of the best authors and motivational speakers of his time. Remember that no circumstance has the right to stay forever with you.
The opinion of the crowd. In the route of your life, you will encounter a lot of “nay-sayers” who would deter you and even stop you from attaining the height you wish to reach. They would only win when you give.
Your Past. The past is gone and sticking to it brings depression. Let the past go so that you can embrace what lies ahead. For Zacchaeus, his small stature and the crowd became the things of the past as he runs to the sycamore tree.
Have a glorious Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.