By Deacon Jerry Franzen – St. Paul Parish 11/04/01
Wisdom 11:22-12:2 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2 Luke 19:1-10
*Like other little boys and girls
who were born to unwed mothers
in the foot hills of East Tennessee,
Ben Hooper was ostracized.
Parents did not allow their children to play with him.
They would say idiotic things like,
“What’s s boy like that doing playing with our children?”
as if he had anything to do with his being born
to an unwed mother.
On Saturdays when Ben’s mother took him to town
to buy the week’s supplies,
the people would loudly ask,
“ Did you ever figure out who his daddy is?”
When Ben started the first grade,
he spent recess at his desk
and ate his sack lunch alone in the corner,
because none of the other children
would associate with him.
Now, it was a big event when anything changed
in the foothills of East Tennessee.
When Ben was twelve years old,
a new preacher came to the little church in town.
Ben had heard that this man was so loving
that he accepted people just as they were
and made them feel like
the most important people in the world.
He had the power to change the complexion of a group,
to broaden smiles, to increase laughter, to lift spirits.
Though he had never been to church,
Ben decided to go to church to hear the preacher.
He decided that he would sneak in late and leave early
in order to not draw attention to his presence.
He liked what he heard;
there was a glimmer of hope in the Good News.
After about six or seven inspiring hopeful Sundays,
on one particular Sunday,
Ben became so enthralled with the message
that he failed to notice the time
or the fact that he had been hemmed in a pew
from both sides by late arrivals.
Suddenly the service was over
and he could not quickly sneak out
through the aisles crowded with people.
As he was making his way through,
he felt a hand on his shoulder.
He turned around, looked up and saw the preacher,
who said, “Whose boy are you?”
Instantly the church grew very quiet and Ben thought,
“Here we go again.”
A smile came over the face of the preacher and he said,
“ Oh, I know whose boy you are.
Why, the family resemblance is unmistakable.
You are a child of God.”
In today’s Gospel, Zacchaeus is the outcast,
not because of his birthright,
but because he was a tax collector,
one who collected taxes from the Jews
for their Roman oppressors
and often profited from overcharging on the taxes.
Like Ben, he wanted to see the preacher, Jesus.
Maybe he thought that he would have been
more conspicuous by trying to fight his way
to the front of the crowd.
He decided to sneak ahead and climb a tree.
Imagine what Zacchaeus thought when Jesus said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly.”
“Oh, no! He’s going to let me have it, because I’m a tax collector, a sinner.” But Jesus didn’t let him have it. He said, “Today, I must stay at your house.”
What Good News! What very Good News!
Our God is not a God who shuns us because we are sinners. Our God does not look at us
and wonder where we came from.
Our God reaches out to us, calls out to us, the sinners.
God wants to dwell within us –
to come to be with us,
to be the Father in our house,
and we, then, are to be the children of God.
When the ravages of sin throughout the week
have cut us down to the smallest size,
we return here each Sunday to get a glimpse of Jesus,
and what do we hear?
“Come down this aisle,
today I must stay at your house;
I must be within each of you.”
And we, like Zacchaeus, come down quickly
and receive him with joy.”
But it must go beyond what we do here each Sunday.
How does this Gospel passage make a difference
in what we do during the week?
Jesus is not here bodily to sit in the homes of those
who must endure personal or family problems.
He is not here to accompany those in the workplace
who seem to be unable to live out his teachings in their jobs. He is not present in the flesh to counsel
those who struggle with the continual onslaught
of worldly attractions.
We are prompted to ask,
“How can Jesus be present to these people;
how can he stay in their houses?”
Or rather the question should be:
“Who will make Jesus present
for the modern-day Zaccheuses?”
And the answer?
“We must be Jesus for each other,
we must stay in each other’s houses.”
“When they saw this, they began to grumble,
saying, ‘He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner!’”
For most of our lives,
we have tried to avoid people like Zacchaeus.
We have worked to leave Zacchaeus
and everyone like him far behind us.
We would look for a “Zacchaeus-free” neighborhood.
It’s far easier to pray for sinners
and to pity them than to eat with them.
It’s far easier to tell a sinner how to repent
or to write a check to some social service agency
than to live next to a Zaccheus.
Our being called by Jesus
does not put us in an exclusive club,
or give us the keys to a gated community.
Our faith journey, like Jesus’ journey into Jericho,
offers us a challenge.
The challenge to keep our eyes open,
to see beyond the comfortable friends at our sides,
to see those whose needs may make us uncomfortable. Walking with Jesus means
that we can no longer just pass through the crowd
to find a safe place.
We must see and reach out to those in need of healing:
Be a source of strength for a parent
who has been weakened by his sin of neglect for his children. Be a source of change for a child
whose life is guided by her hate for a parent.
Be a source of comfort for a friend
unsettled by his own anger in the workplace.
Be a means of conversion for a young adult
focused on the pleasures of the flesh.
Look up into that sycamore tree
and see our friends and ourselves longing to be healed.
If we follow Jesus on his journey,
truly make it our journey,
if we are Jesus for others on that journey,
the family resemblance will truly be unmistakable.
We will be easily recognized as children of God
* “Do You Know Who His Daddy Is?” by Zig Ziglar in “Stories from the Heart” compiled by Alice Gray , Questar Publishers, Inc. Sisters, Oregon 1996 p 230