An Unlikely Saint

Though it wasn’t planned that way, I find it particularly apt that the Gospel story of Zacchaeus should have been scheduled close to the celebration of All Saints.

Luke tells us that Jesus was on the road. Jericho was not a stopping point; he had only intended to pass through. Nonetheless, he had attracted a large crowd of residents – among them one of the most hated: the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus. An unexplained curiosity possessed Zacchaeus to try to see this Man of miracles.

Being “short in stature” like Zacchaeus, I know how it is to try to see anything of a parade. Impossible! No one would want to clear a path for this despised man. They would sooner trample over him than make a space for him to see the miracle-worker.

So Zacchaeus improvised.

A grove of sycamore trees was slightly off the path. Since sycamores in that part of the world are rather small, Zacchaeus was able to climb up quite easily to a branch which would give him a good view of the whole event.zacchaeus

The crowd approaches. How does Jesus happen to spot Zacchaeus? My version is that someone in the crowd eyed him perched on a branch and, thinking he looked quite ridiculous, mockingly pointed him out to others in the throng. What thoughts might have entered Zacchaeus’ mind? A rush of shame, possibly, that here he was – wealthy beyond anyone else in this motley crew, but despised and rejected, made out to be a total fool in the presence of this renowned Person.

Instead of joining in the mob’s disdain, Jesus looks up. (Jesus always looks up and beyond our earthbound view.) Jesus calls to Zacchaeus and boldly invites himself to spend the night at this sinner’s home.

Everyone else, the “good” people who do everything right, they’re all irate that this liar, cheat and extortionist, should be the one to be honored. Was this Galilean really a prophet? Then he wouldn’t have wanted to enter the home of a sinner — or would he?

Zacchaeus joyfully scrambles down, instantly converted to full atonement and gratitude. Zacchaeus, like you and me, has been invited to holiness. It’s totally unexpected, totally undeserved. Unlike the righteous many, Jesus does not refer to Zacchaeus as a sinner but as someone lost. Mercy flows so easily, so happily, from Jesus, and into the unlikeliest of persons!

And so does Christ view us. He calls us to his level. He boldly invites himself to enter our home, to be one with us. Once we have enjoyed his companionship, other associations or attachments that lead us away from him are cheerfully abandoned. How can they compare?

This Gospel is the story of all the other saints besides Zacchaeus who are celebrated this week. They all started out as sinners.

Where do I see myself in this picture?

 

My Yoke Is Easy

It was one of those blue days that some of us get. Being overtired certainly was a contributing factor, having overextended myself the day before. (When will I learn that enough is enough?)

Still, it was much too early to go to bed, and the available reading material just couldn’t rouse my interest, much less my energy. Normally when I feel this way, I’d like to have someone around who could commiserate with me, comfort me. The grace was that I decided to put in a call to my friend who had been suffering from sinusitis. Common sense would have told me that she’d certainly not be in the mood to listen to my griping nor to console me. Which is what made this idea a Grace, and not just a whim.

As we conversed, I experienced a new liveliness forming within me. Not that we were talking about anything “important;” just your usual “hi, what’s happening?” kind of trivia. By the time we hung up, I was surprised by how energized I felt. The blues were disappearing, and out of the blue came these lines from Matthew 25:

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will give   you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

The amazing thing is that Christ does not offer to take away our labor or the burden, which is what we usually ask him to do. Instead, he invites us to take on something additional: his yoke. I could see the connection to what Christ was telling me, and what the Holy Spirit inspired me to do: imitate Christ, take your friend’s troubles upon yourself. Instead of becoming more gloomy, your mood will lighten and you will feel comforted.

The yoke is the perfect metaphor for what Christ is teaching us here. It is designed to spread the weight between two animals, usually oxen or even mules. Jesus, both gentle and humble, willingly stoops to our level – and even lower – to join us in carrying our burdens.

 Instead of being an added burden, Christ’s yoke is “easy” and “light.” Christ offers us this counter-intuitive solution that we are likely to miss unless we’re open to his voice.

And so it was with the solution I was offered: seek out someone who is in a situation similar to yours, someone who feels burdened and tired. As we offer support to another for the love of Christ, Christ lightens our burdens.

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