You may be aware by now, that the Jesuits have elected a new leader to guide us. His name is Father Arturo Sosa. He was born in Venezuela and is in his sixties. Both he and Pope Francis come from Latin America and it is the first time ever for a Pope and a Jesuit General to come from Latin America!
I would like to link his journey to a Gospel scene and to one particular person: a man called Zacchaeus, “who was anxious to see Jesus". He was not tall enough to see over the crowd, so he went to the trouble of climbing a tree. We can fit into this scene quite easily: we are keen to meet Jesus too but there is often something that blocks our way. The block for Zacchaeus was his love of wealth and the key for him was just to be open to an invitation of the Lord: “I must stay at your house today". Zacchaeus climbed down from the tree and welcomed Him in.
A Kind Welcome
The tree of Zacchaeus is in the city of Jericho, which is surrounded by desert, not far from the Dead Sea. Yet, beautiful palm trees grow all around and people easily find water. The secret of life is in the underground springs that lie below the city. There were other surprises too. Little did I know that a military border post lay between Jerusalem on my way to Jericho. The soldier on duty was not satisfied with my student pass but it was all I had. Suddenly, a voice said in a Scotish accent, “Who is there?” Quick as a flash, I shouted, “I’m Irish”.
“Let him through” came the same accent again! I did not wait a second to find out how a Scottish person could possibly be at a border post outside Jericho. It was ten o’clock in the morning and the heat was already at thirty degrees Celsius. Out of the blue, an opening car door appeared on my left. The driver spoke no English and I no Arabic so gestures had to do. What a relief to sit in the car.
I did notice that his girth was considerable, which meant I could jump out of the car quicker than he could. This thought filled me with shame later on as he was so generous towards me. He took me everywhere – right to the tree of Zacchaeus as tradition claims, and asked me to wait there for ten minutes. Soon we were on the way to his home to meet his beautiful wife and kids and they spoke perfect English. We enjoyed an Arabic ‘afternoon tea’. It was like reliving the scene in the Gospel -“I must stay at your house today”.
The Deeper Self
There is a little bit of Zacchaeus in each one of us. His story tells every Christian that the Lord meets us in the ups and downs of daily life. It is the Lord who awakens our deepest self that seeks to meet God, yet recognises how vulnerable we are. Given the busy world we are in, this is not all that easy. Secondly, some think they must be perfect or need to jump through many hoops before they can meet God. Yet, it is clear that real encounter is two-way: the Lord matches each step of Zacchaeus and offers a further step for him to take. We can see clearly in the story how the Lord’s staying in the house is matched by Zacchaeus giving half his wealth to the poor.
The culture we live in tells us never to show that we are vulnerable. It also teaches that DIY (Do-It Yourself) is the rule to follow. Yet another value, I suggest, is the amassing of power and control over people. These are some of the values that we need to be aware of as they can take over our lives. This awareness helps us to keep in touch with our deepest self by staying aware of other people’s needs and keeping an open heart. It is worth noting that Zacchaeus had many issues that could have pulled him away from that meeting with Christ – yet his deepest self-won out.
A New Presence
This leads to a change in his values so that a new priority comes into play. He gives up cheating people and even returns ill-gotten gains. This is faith in a new source. This story gives us an insight about how prayer is a way of living out of our faith. Zacchaeus has become aware of a new Presence in his life, even a new joy in his heart, a hope in a wider horizon, a love flowing from the power of that new Presence.