What’s Keeping You From Jesus?

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

This Sunday’s gospel reading tells the story of a man named Zacchaeus and his life-changing encounter with Christ. There are two important things to note about Zacchaeus: he was a tax collector, and he was short. Both of these things stood in between him and God.

Zacchaeus’s small stature literally kept him from being able to see Jesus. The gospel tells us that he “was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature” (Lk 19:3). That problem is easily remedied. Zacchaeus climbed a tree.

This should be a point of reflection for us. Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus because of the crowd. Is there a “crowd” in our lives that might be keeping us from seeing Jesus? Is it the “crowd” of our peer group that doesn’t think religious faith is all that important? Is it the “crowd” of our busy lives as students, so focused on academic success? Is it the “crowd” of entertainment that so easily distracts us and keeps us from having to think about important things? Is it the “crowd” of politics that places our hopes on political salvation?

The question is, how do we rise above the crowd? Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore. So what tree do you need to climb? Are you willing, like Zacchaeus, to make that effort?

Of course climbing a tree was not all Zacchaeus had to do. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, which (as we mentioned last week), made him a government-sponsored thief. The Romans employed indigenous members of the regions they occupied to collect their taxes. They were encouraged to collect above and beyond what the Roman empire required; that excess became their salary. We are told that Zacchaeus was “a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man” (Lk 19:2), which meant he had amassed quite a great deal of dishonest wealth off the backs of his fellow countrymen.

More than the literal crowd, what stood between Zacchaeus and Christ was his great sin. Just like Zacchaeus had to rise above the crowd to see Jesus, Zacchaeus also needed to rise above his sin. He did this not by climbing a tree but by repentance. “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,” he told Jesus, “and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over” (Lk 19:8).

To “repent” literally means to change your mind. To change your mind about sin means not only ceasing the sinful action, but being willing to make amends if possible for any harm you may have done to others. In this case, Zacchaeus was willing to give his ill-gotten gains to the poor and to repay those whom he had wronged.

Just as we all have our own “crowds” that keep us from seeing Jesus, we all have our own sins that prevent us from being in full friendship with Christ. Just like we may have to climb a metaphorical tree to rise above the crowd, we each need to repent from our sins and strive to make amends.

Zacchaeus was willing to make that effort. That’s what makes him a hero in this story. That’s what made his encounter with Christ life-changing. If we are willing to make that effort, too, by rising above our distractions, examining our conscience, making a good confession and engaging in true penance, then we can also have a life-changing encounter with Christ, as Jesus speaks the same words to us that he spoke to Zacchaeus: “Today salvationĀ has come to this house” (Lk 19:9).