Sometimes our actions indicate one thing on the surface, but in fact betray a much deeper desire and longing – one we think is masked and well hidden. But while we think that our true motives are hidden, others can in fact see only too well what our true intent is.
The interaction between Zaccheus and Jesus seems to exemplify this dynamic quite well in today’s gospel reading.
By his public action (climbing a tree) Zaccheus seems to indicate he merely wants to satisfy his curiosity and ‘see’ Jesus; he is intrigued and wonders what this man is like. Perhaps in public Zaccheus can pretend that it is mere curiosity that drives him to climb the tree and that he exercises this amount of energy and enthusiasm solely because he is short in stature. At least this is a public face he can show – it does not reveal too much of his inner world and he can easily account for his actions by virtue of his lack of height.
But clearly there is more at work in Zaccheus.
This becomes obvious when Jesus seeks him out and makes the extraordinary request to stay at his house! Symbolically Jesus asks to come ‘inside’ to enter into the home and thus personal life of Zaccheus.
The response of Zaccheus reveals much to us (and perhaps to himself too) in that it goes far beyond what someone merely seeking to ‘see’ what this man Jesus is like might reply.
That is, just at Jesus makes an extraordinary request to Zaccheus, so too Zaccheus makes an extraordinary response. He allows an inner, deeper spirit to exercise influence over him and he speaks from his heart. In a sense we hear a dialogue of heart speaking to heart. Jesus sees through Zaccheus’ actions to his deeper need, Zaccheus responds to such warmth and recognition by allowing his deeper aspirations – for belonging, for truth and honest and for renewal – to surface and he too speak from his heart to welcome Jesus.
Perhaps this is the essence of the gospel text that we might observe today and seek to make our own.
In this gospel as so often in life, Jesus speaks to us of his desire to ‘be’ with us, to make his home within us. This in turn can free us to allow our deeper desires for him to surface and we can dare to welcome him more deeply into our own lives. But the presence of Jesus sot us is not merely a passive one, no his grace at work within us can motive and empower us to try to recreate our lives once more for him.
Perhaps too Zaccheus can be a symbol of so many people in our world today who are aware of Jesus and indeed fascinated by him but their interest goes no deeper. They ‘know of’ him, but their interest stays at the intellectual level.
Let us not be mere observers. The deeper and more important symbolism of the character of Zaccheus is to take up the challenge that his actions reveal to us. Let us be the ones who welcome Jesus into our inner world, our home and allow him to dwell there.
For every day, for those who listen, the words of Jesus echo and re-echo “I must stay at your house today..”
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.