Because of his diminutive stature, the tax collector had climbed a tree to get a better view of this man everyone was talking about as Jesus and his disciples passed along the narrow street. For some unexplainable reason, the hated and despised Zacchaeus decided to set aside his own ego and the risk of heaping additional ridicule upon himself by the townsfolk who witnessed him perched in the sycamore tree.
And when Jesus looked up and spoke those chilling words to him, Zacchaeus must have had to do everything possible not to fall straight out of the tree in a faint – the most despised of the community invited to host a dinner for the most popular man in all Israel!
Zacchaeus must have been beside himself. And perhaps we would be, as well… “up a tree!”
With less than a few hours’ notice, could we pull together a party in our home, complete with guests, a sumptuous feast, and servants enough to see to the needs of Jesus, his disciples and all the other tax collectors and friends of Zacchaeus?
Or would we be so self-conscious that we would refuse an invitation or else attempt to forestall Jesus’ visit a week until we could make things perfect and in doing so, miss out on the blessing of just spending time with Jesus?
When Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus had to make a decision. He chose not to be concerned at the state of his domicile or if there was enough food prepared to feed the multitude that followed Jesus wherever he went. He opened his home and heart.
As we entered the season of Lent, we were reminded that we have areas in our heart that haven’t seen the light of day and that Jesus would be coming to illuminate those places that need sweeping, polishing and yes, even decluttering or trashing.
We might call it spring cleaning (if it were Spring) but each of us are asked in this Year of Mercy to let go of the detritus that accumulates over time and to prepare a place of honor in our hearts for our Lord to reside and entertain friends.
On February 20, our parish hosted the Riverside Vicariate with the Blessing of the Holy Door of Mercy, followed by opportunities for Reconciliation, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and/or a prayer walk through the Stations of Mercy. Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Rutilio del Riego did the honors of blessing our door and was accompanied by a dozen clergy from the Vicariate. The weather was nice and everything went as planned.
Of course, there were certainly a few stressful moments in preparation for Saturday – additional meetings and discussions, the ordering and delivery of booklets, banners (and even a temporary carpet), the preparation of the bilingual worship aids, the installation of artwork for the Stations of Mercy and the arranging for musicians and the scheduling of confessors to serve the hundreds of ‘pilgrims’ who came to enter through the Door of Mercy!
And like with Zacchaeus’ party, everyone who joined in the celebration received a blessing knowing that Jesus was welcomed.
Zacchaeus’ blessing was a metanoia experience – a “change of heart.” He was so filled with the spirit of mercy and forgiveness he even gave a toast whereby he promised to return the money he overcharged his community.
What about us? Can we see any change in ourselves? Are we becoming more merciful or are we holding back - still stuck “up a tree?”
Showing mercy heals both the giver and the receiver so that the bonds of love and community may be mended and made stronger.
Although Jesus would go forth from this town, Zacchaeus would remain behind, a light in the darkness and a testimony to God’s love and mercy.
Let all of us come down from our trees as well and pass through one of the seven Holy Doors in our Diocese so that we, too, may shine more brightly during this Year of Mercy and beyond.
John DeGano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in Riverside.