Short, Sweet and Simple – Fr Harold Parilla

Luke 19:1-10, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Gospel for this Sunday focuses on the man known by the name Zacchaeus. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word from which this name is formed means “clean, pure, innocent”.

I would like to structure our reflection using three words which can describe the person and character of Zacchaeus:

The first word is short. This is used as a description of the physical attributes of the protagonist in the story. He was so small that he had to run ahead of the crowd and climb up a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.

Zacchaeus did not stay small, however. His encounter with Jesus unveiled the taller version of the same man. Behind the small stature was a man with a big heart. Upon conversion he assured Jesus, “I will give half of my wealth to the poor. If I have defrauded anyone, I will restore to him what I have taken four-fold”.

Ron Rolheiser once wrote that “goodness does something to us”. When we experience it, we grow taller. We rediscover and unveil our own nobility. When Zacchaeus encountered Jesus, the “tall man gave back what the small man had taken”.

Are you short, or tall? Perhaps it is better to say that inside each one of us, there is a tall person and a shorter one. Each day the struggle for supremacy is fought inside our hearts. Whenever we succumb to sin, fight our siblings, give in to our hatred or pride, engage in cheating or greed, the shorter version of ourselves wins. In moments of kindness, hospitality, humility and empathy, whenever we overcome our small-mindedness, the taller self takes over and manifests itself gently.

The second word is sweet. Reading through the story again and again, I sense a rather fresh element in the character of Zacchaeus. At the outset, he was depicted as a rich, tax-collector, one who was in cahoots with Roman authorities. In our minds, it is easy to imagine someone who was heartless in his dealings with people.

He surprised us however with his gesture of seeking. He was serious about wanting to see Jesus. The story described him as running ahead of the crowd, and climbing a tree. Hardly a set of actions by a disdainful and unpleasant man. Instead he comes across as a person who is well-disposed, almost innocent and child-like.

As with stories coming from our own experiences, the initial impression falls apart and crumbles down. Our judgmental tendencies are once again challenged. The cover is indeed not the book; oftentimes our labels do not give justice to the reality they claim to describe.

The third word is simple. There is a disarming simplicity and genuineness in the conversion of Zacchaeus. Having realized that he was short of what was expected, he stated in clear terms what he would do in order to begin a new life. There was no drama, no fanfare, no elaborate planning. He knew what he needed to do, and presumably carried it out. To him, discipleship was about justice and charity. Plain and simple.

Today we can get lost in our moral deliberations – for instance, on the question of whether or not we should give to a beggar. Unfortunately, more often than not, we end up not doing anything at all in favor of the poor.

Short, sweet and simple. Zacchaeus may just have given us a good way to describe who we are and what we ought to be.

[Photo credits: Google]

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