In today’s Gospel, we heard proclaim the beautiful account of the conversion of Zacchaeus, a wealthy man, who was won over by Jesus’ Compassionate Love for him. This story of Zacchaeus’ conversion speaks about your life and my life.
In many ways we can speak of a “Zacchaeus” within each of our hearts; for many of us, like Zacchaeus, we are restless within our hearts; for some of us, we are lonely and drifting in life even though we are surrounded by material wealth; for still some of us, like Zacchaeus, we may be rejected, hated and even outcast by people for the harm and hurts we may have caused them and the suffering we may have created in their lives.
The first point that today’s Gospel is challenging us,is to face is the truth of the restlessness that we may have within our hearts. Unless we admit and accept that we have such restlessness, it would be very difficult for us to admit and accept the Compassionate and Loving God into our lives.
But, when we humbly admit that our hearts are “restless” and our lives are lonely and rejected by others, including our loved ones, then like Zacchaeus, our hearts will be open and attentive to the innate and natural goodness that God has planted within our hearts when He created us in our mother’s womb.
Although Zacchaeus was a sinner through his life of deceit through overtaxing people for his own gains, and this including the poor and needy, Deep within his heart, Zacchaeus, like all of us,was created with an innate and natural goodness of God. Zacchaeus in many ways reminds us of the qualities that Peter the apostle had. When Jesus told the apostles that He was to suffer and die as shameful death, Peter immediately responded, “Lord, this is not to happen to you . . . I will die for you.” Jesus looks at Peter with deep affection and love and says to him, “Peter, before the cork crows, you would have disowned me three times.”
Zacchaeus, in today’s Gospel too was spontaneous, impetuous and extravagant in his response to Jesus and says, “Lord, I will give half my property to the poor and if I have cheated anyone, I would repay him four times!”
Zacchaeus, like Peter a love for God that was buried at the depth of his heart. But, this has to be awakened and so does ours, and all people that God has created. And that is why St Augustine’s most famous phrase touched millions of hearts when he Confessed, “You have made us for you, Lord, and our hearts are restless until it rests in You.” (Confessions I,1,1)
There is a story of a young boy saying to his father, “Dad, I just want to let you know that each time you lose your temper and scold me and sometimes in front of others, something inside me dies. Please don’t hurt me . . . I can’t take it anymore . . . It’s very painful . . . and I am very sad . . . sometimes I wish you don’t come home so that I don’t get hurt any more . . .”
The father was shocked at what he heard . . . he immediately hugged his son, and said, “Son, I am so sorry for hurting you . . . daddy is hurting inside too . . . and I did not realise that I was also hurting you . . . filled with tears, he said, “Son, I am so sorry for all the hurts I have caused you . . . It will not happen again . . . You must know that whatever happens, I have always loved you . . . and I will always love you.”
The son hugged his father even more tightly and said, “Dad, . . . I feel something inside me has come to life again . . . I love you.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all sinners . . . the Zacchaeus within our hearts that has caused hurt to others, is also the Zacchaeus who has a heart that is excited about Jesus whom he heard welcomes tax collectors and sinners. Jesus not only welcomed sinners, He invited Himself to stay in Zacchaeus’ house for the day.
Jesus too is inviting Himself to live in our hearts and homes. Jesus, was present in the heart of the little boy who was hurting, but He was not able to be fully present in the father until he embraced his hurting son with sorrow and repentance in his heart.
When Zacchaeus experienced a deep conversion of heart, his heart must have leaped with such great joy that for once in his life, he experienced that everything in this world – all his wealth – meant nothing to him unless and until he allows Jesus, the Compassionate Love of God to fill his heart and direct his life. So moved with such divine joy, Zacchaeus, with great spontaneity proclaims publicly with great humility, “Lord, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheater anybody, I will pay him back four times the amount.” Jesus then says to Zacchaeus, “Today, salvation has come to this house . . .!” Would we also hear Jesus whisper these words into our ears today?
The father of the boy, when touched by God’s grace, says to his son, “Son, I am so sorry for all the hurts I have caused you . . .” Would we hear ourselves today saying these words to someone whom we have hurt? If we do, then we too would hear Jesus saying to us, as He said to Zacchaeus, “Today, salvation has come to this house . . .!”
Gerald G. May who had published books in the inter-disciplinary field of psychology and spirituality writes, “After twenty years oflistening to the yearnings of people’s hearts, I am convinced that all human beings have an inborn desire for God. Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing . . . Regardless of how we describe it, it is a longing for love. It is a hunger to love, to be loved, and to move closer to the source of love. This yearning is the essence of the human spirit.” (Hearts Burning, . . . Nil Guillemette, St Pauls, Philippines; 2006: pg 430; re: Addiction and Grace, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988, p.1.)
St John of the Cross says, “We bear within our very substance an open wound of longing and of dissatisfaction . . . We experience this, but most often do not recognise the cause. We seek to assuage our wound in one way or another, but there is no healing of it apart from Him, (who is our God the True God of our lives and loves.)”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, let me conclude by reminding ourselves that without exception, you and I are sinners . . . we should not be proud of this fact; instead, we should be proud of the Truth of the Good News that Jesus who invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ home as a shepherd seeking the one lost sheep, is also seeking out for us . . . if we find life to be restless, lonely and empty in spite of being surrounded by the comfort and material wealth that we are blessed with.
Like Zaccheus and the father of the little boy in our story, we too are reminded that if we have hurt someone or caused suffering to others, then Jesus too wants to invite Himself into our hearts and our homes so that we can be more fully present to us through the conversion of our hearts . . . what would our response to Jesus be?
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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