Luke 19:1-10, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Whenever I take a plane, I make sure that my carry-on fits under the seat in front of me. Oh, I could bring a larger carry-on and toss it into the overhead stowage bin. But the few times I did that, my bag sat a little too deep into the bin. So, to retrieve it at the end of the flight, I had to, well, get up on the seat…which was embarrassing to me and annoying to others!
I dread rush hour on the LRT. By the time I get on, all the handrails—which by the way hang a little too high for my arm’s length—-often already have hands on them. So, I’ve learned to keep precarious balance using only my beautiful, flawless short legs, and I pray that the drivers step gently on the brakes. Because the few times they didn’t, I almost came crashing face-first onto people’s kili-kilis!
And then there’s been no Christmas when I didn’t have to give away to my brothers some of the nicest shirts I’ve received as presents. For some reason, my sweet and thoughtful friends think I’m a size-small; oh, bless their hearts!
To be fair to God, though, I was never bullied in school. Oh, I had classmates who were bullied for their skin color, for being fat, being thin, for wearing eyeglasses. But not me for my height. And you know why I thought I was never bullied? Because I worked my myself half-crazy to do really well in school. Even as a child, I already sensed that unless I made something of myself, I’d be bullied, too. So, I did very, very well and made mom and dad very, very proud, and kept the bullies very, very far away. But then I got very, very condescending and snarky and uppity and superior. Only later would I accept that arrogance was just smoke and mirrors, so people would see me as accomplished rather than as short. I tried to prove something all the time, so people would measure me from the head up instead of from the head down.
“So, Zacchaeus, I feel for you. You are my favorite.” That sycamore tree Zacchaeus climbed that day? That wasn’t just a tree. That was the story of his life. He must’ve driven himself half-crazy to get to the top, just to prove to everyone that he could still be head and shoulders above the rest. And you know, he got actually there: tax collector. Whoever bullied him were now beholden to him. Jews hated a tax collector for two reasons: (a) he was Jew but he collected for the Romans; a traitor, therefore; and (b) he levied more tax than Rome stipulated, amassing the difference and enriching himself. There is a third reason for that hatred that is not often mentioned. A tax collector was often a money lender as well. That was why Jews were beholden to him because they owed him! So, it was difficult to not hate a tax collector. But it was also difficult to not need him…which made people hate him all the more! Parang yung mga naka-motorsiklong tinatawag nating “bumbay.” People who borrow money from them tell a lot of jokes about them, and I mean, really racist jokes. But they’re stuck with the Pakistanis because it’s only they who’re willing to lend a paltry loan that tides people over for the month.
Like Zacchaeus, I’m pretty sure that at certain points in our lives, most, if not all, of us have compensated, or are still compensating, for a deficit we know we have. But wait, to compensate is human. It’s even evolutionary. It’s a way of natural adaptation. Whatever deficit nature has dealt us, we adapt, we compensate because we need to function and survive. Otherwise, we become either helpless or tediously dependent on other people. But let’s be frank with each other. Aren’t there times and do we not have tendencies in which our compensation goes on overdrive…and then turns snide, arrogant, hurtful? Worse, it becomes oppressive, vindictive, and nasty. When we overcompensate that way to be the best of ourselves, we really become the worst of ourselves. When we overcompensate, we become revolting to other people. People revile us, this time, not for a deficit, but for a redundancy—an excess of self-importance. In your own life, what personal deficit do you think you’ve overcompensated for? How do you feel about it?
“Come down quickly,” Jesus says to Zacchaeus, looking up to him. “No need to sit so high on your perch,” Jesus seems to say. “We can meet down here below, where everyone’s feet are on level ground, including mine.” Our first reading is beautiful and the Lord could well have recited it to Zacchaeus: “For my Father loves all things that are, and hates nothing he has made; if he hated it, he wouldn’t have fashioned it. And how could something remain unless my Father willed it, or be preserved unless he didn’t call it forth? But my Father spares all because they are his, our Father, lover of souls.”
When Salvation literally walked into Zacchaeus’ house, that wasn’t just a friendly visit for the day. That’s the life story of God. God saves us by always meeting us where we are. That has always been how God relates with us. God makes the first move and meets us where we are. Only from there does he walk us towards where he wants us led. Don’t believe anyone who says, “Before God can ever meet you, before God ever pays attention to you, before God even starts desiring to save you, first you have to be an excellent soul!” No. That’s the way of humans. But not the way of God. In fact, we cannot make the first move towards God if God hasn’t already made the first move on us.
Laging nauuna ang Diyos. Kahit sa pagpapatawad. Kahit sa pag-ibig at lalo na sa pag-ibig. Laging nauuna ang Diyos. God always begins from where we are. Down on level ground, where his big feet and our small ones meet.
*image from the Internet