Dinner With Jesus
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner." But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."
I went outside today and climbed a tree. I will admit that it has been a long time since I had done so. It took a little longer than when I was 12 years old. I kept thinking about how dirty I was getting, how badly I was going to scrape my arms and how I was going to explain a broken leg from jumping out of a tree to my brothers in Youth Apostles. But, I climbed a tree today and I have pictures to prove it.
It had probably been a long time as well for Zacchaeus, the tax collector. St. Luke informs us that he was “seeking to see who Jesus was” and that he was “short in stature.” Climbing the tree helped me realize that the wealthy man, Zacchaeus, needed a very good reason to mount that sycamore. He must have been really interested in getting a look at Jesus.
This longing to see Jesus makes sense. On the one hand, every human being has an interest in encountering the Divine and seeing God with our own eyes. This is because we were built with the purpose of being united with God in faith and love. We were fashioned by God to be in a fulfilling relationship with Him while journeying this earth and, then, for all eternity in heaven. Consequently, there is a large hole in our hearts that leaves us terribly unfulfilled until we invite God into it. Secondly, Zacchaeus probably had heard plenty of talk about this “Jesus from Nazareth.” This simple rabbi was traveling from town to town, preaching with unheard of authority, healing with miraculous power, forgiving sinners with unexpected generosity, and attracting huge crowds. Zacchaeus wanted to see this famous figure with his own eyes.
This built-in desire to know and love God can easily get smothered by the weight of life’s many demands, including those of family, school, work and play. It can also get attacked by our personal sins that chip away at our goodness and make us look in all the wrong places for the fulfillment of our desires. However, this desire to see God remains in us and is really hard to completely smother. It remains an impetus for the greatest task we have on earth — to know, love and serve God on this earth so that we can be welcomed by Jesus to the place He has prepared for us in His Father’s house.
Today, let’s ask ourselves: How strong is my desire to see God and encounter Him? Next, let’s turn our attention from Zacchaeus to Jesus, the main character in this fabulous scene. We learn so much about God from this particular moment in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus, according to the Evangelist Luke, is intending to pass through the ancient city of Jericho on His mission of building the Kingdom of God on earth. While walking along this path, our Blessed Lord stops in His tracks, looks up into the sycamore tree at Zacchaeus, and invites Himself to the tax collector’s house for dinner.
This unexpected move proclaims from the housetops that our relationship with God is the result of His grace and invitation. First, as already noted, God plants a profound desire for Him in our hearts. Additionally, knowing how difficult life and faith are for us, He lovingly seeks us out; He pursues us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is not distracted by the crowd but actively approaches us. In this instance, Jesus breaks with another strong, cultural practice of the day. Jews of this time period usually did not offer their name to a stranger let alone invite them to their house. Jesus was being terribly bold by inviting Himself to Zacchaeus’ house for a meal. Jesus wanted time with Zacchaeus. The Lord wants time with you and with me.
Zacchaeus’ reaction to Jesus is just beautiful. He quickly descends from the tree and receives Jesus with joy. He repents of his sins on the spot. He decides to give half of his possessions to the poor and to repay four times what he extorted from each of his fellow Jews. His life is changed, and it will never be the same.
What was it about this encounter with Jesus that brought about such a dramatic change of heart? Was it the look of love in Jesus’ eyes that pierced his heart? Was it the tone in Jesus’ voice that exuded a tender mercy? Was it a hand on the shoulder that gave him the sense that he was in the presence of God and God wanted to dine at his house? Was it a conviction that he had wanted a major change in his life and this Jesus of Nazareth was offering him a way out? Whatever it was, it changed his life forever.
Today, Jesus stops at the base of your tree (or below your bedroom window) and invites Himself to your house for dinner. He wants time alone with you. What will be your reaction?
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