31st Sunday in ORDINARY Time
Rev. Maria Thornton McClain, RCWP
Little Zacchaeus was not only a crook, he was a wealthy crook! We can only speculate as to why he wanted to see Jesus so badly that he climbed up into a sycamore tree. Middle Eastern sycamore trees are smaller than the North American version, including having smaller and fewer leaves. So it really was possible for him to find a low-hanging branch and swing up to a higher notch where he could see people passing by on the road.
What attracted him to Jesus we'll never know. We'll also never know why he risked being injured by people throwing rocks at him. Everybody knew he was cheating them, but they didn't dare complain for fear of attracting attention of the Roman soldiers. But whatever led Zacchaeus to run ahead of the crowd, climb the tree and peer down at Jesus, he was immeasurably rewarded. For Jesus noticed him, called to him, and he came down from the tree a new person.
Let's use this opportunity to reflect on different aspects of ourselves. When we first meet Zacchaeus he seems to be a good example of a person who is focused on himself and his success. By itself that's not evil, is it? in today's world, that focus would probably include a person's car, body image, education and other trappings of his or her ego. There's nothing wrong with that. These things help people get through an ordinary day. They're the projection of one's self-image. However, people tend to think this is their real self and are attached, or even addicted to it.
When somebody like Zacchaeus or you or me is able to move beyond this surface level, this "small self" or sometimes called the "False Self", at the right time and in the right way, it feels like we haven't lost anything. It feels like freedom and liberation. Why? Because we sense that we are connected to something much bigger; we no longer need to defend our small piece of the picture. We're connected to something inexhaustible.
How do we set ourselves in this direction, away from attachments and addictions of whatever type that show we are stuck in self-pity or on our own success? Some people go through therapy. That's fine but it only goes so far. Good therapy often helps people cope with other "False Selves" they come in contact with. Psychology can't get into the world of the eternal, the sacred. As the Jungian psychologist, James Hillman, wrote: 'We've had a hundred years of therapy - and the world's getting worse." Maybe he's right. At least he points to the limitations of any system except the biggest. AA can get into that world somewhat through one's "higher power."
Spiritual Direction can help a person walk the road to ones True Self. But there's no magic about it. It takes a lot of searching, honesty, prayer and reaching out in service to others.
Getting back to Jesus, he didn't "cure" people of just their medical or physical problems; he actually "healed" them and sent them on their way or back to join society. He led people to a whole new experience of themselves: more self-confident, more capable of healthy relationships, new joy, forgiveness of the old self - all recognized through the physical cure.
What has led you to experience life in a whole new way? Was it a near-death experience, being in the presence of a very holy person, like Mother Teresa, putting yourself through an experience that stretched you beyond where you thought you could go?
Are you still struggling to find your True Self? Personally, I think some of us find our True Self in degrees as we are led deeper into our relationship with God. Our False Self doesn't go away. Zacchaeus still had to make a living. Hopefully he found an honest way to collect taxes and to relate to people who he had cheated in the past.
As for Jesus, to quote the Franciscan Richard Rohr, "the beautiful body and life that Jesus surrendered on the cross were willingly surrendered not because they were bad or unworthy, but because they were no longer necessary or helpful to the final task."
We gradually find our True Self as we do the work of growing up, of listening and watching for the clues. At the right time, as Thomas Merton said, "A door opens in the center of our being, and we seem to fall through it into immense depths, which although they are infinite - are still accessible to us. All eternity seems to have become ours in this one placid and breathless contact." Wow, how wonderful and frightening at the same time is that!
Zacchaeus was thrilled, but probably just as surprised as everyone else in the crowd, when Jesus invited himself to dinner at his house. Christ has invited himself to dine with us this evening. Let's treat him with real hospitality however he comes to us now and for the rest of the day and the week.