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I was about to leave to say Mass at a nursing home, so got my alb, draped it over my arm, and went to the back door to check out the car situation. I opened the door to see what was available and there was nothing in the lot. I forgot to sign out a car. I went back into the house, stood in the doorway with a thousand-mile stare trying to figure out if I should take public transportation and be three hours late or call and cancel. I am not sure how long I was there, one minute, maybe five. Someone came through the back door, saw me standing there and said, “Oh, do you need a car?” I did not hide my joy and told him how happy I was to get a car. He said, “You know I was going to stay at the reception a little longer but I got this funny feeling that someone needed a car so I came back.” A funny feeling. Did that ever happen to you that someone was able to read your mind without the use of words. I am not sure what that is, but I call it mental telepathy. I tried it once on our cook hoping she would read my thought … “Pizza, make pizza.” It didn’t work.
It worked for Zacchaeus, however. He wanted to send Jesus a message from a sycamore tree. Note that he is not just a tax collector but the chief tax collector. What is a chief tax guy? Rome never collected taxes; a private company would put up the money for a province and then collect the money after. Zacchaeus would be the CEO of that company. This raises a question. Why would the most hated man in the first century want to climb a tree and be exposed to a hateful crowd? Apparently, he wanted to send a message to Jesus that even though he was short and despite everyone hating him, he was not all that bad. In fact, he is willing to give half to the poor.
It is ironic that he climbs a sycamore tree. What is a sycamore tree? If you ever see a tree that with brown blotches, ugly spots on its truck and its bark all curled up and peeling off, it is probably a sycamore tree. A sycamore tree looks as if there is something wrong with it, sick and diseased, but it is really quite healthy. To everyone the chief tax collector looks like he is diseased with sin and evil, but there is a lot of good in him.
It is ironic too that just before Jesus encountered Zacchaeus he met and cured a blind beggar. That was a very nice thing for Jesus to do, but here is the problem. Jesus took away the man’s sole source of income. He is no longer blind so he has no reason to beg. We can assume he has no education, no job training or skills. How is he going to make a living? Jesus will not be able to help him because he is going to Jerusalem to save the world. Yet, in the very next scene there is a rich man who is going to give half his wealth to the poor. Jesus can move on to Jerusalem and leave the blind man because the Lord now has a partner. To the rest of the world the man is flawed and rejected. But Jesus sees the good in him and becomes an important part of the mission. The man who was formerly blind does not have to worry about what he is going to eat or wear because Jesus has a partner who will take care of the poor.
If Zacchaeus were here today, he would tell us, “You may think that there have too many flaws or you are not very popular or maybe you are too short, but send the message to God that you are not so bad, and you want to join him in his work. You will see that you have great potential to do great things for God.Back to All Homilies