Posts Tagged ‘Catholic lectionary’

Luke tells us that Zacchaeus is short. It’s probably one thing that almost anyone who’s heard this Gospel story would tell you about him. He’s that short guy who climbed a tree to see Jesus. Often they see it as sort of a slap-stick kind of scene, with a normally distinguished businessman puffing and out of breath and trying to haul himself into a tree.

I’m not short but I’m left-handed. I’m thinking it might have something of the same effect. You learn early in life to compensate, to find ways to do things that are designed for people who are taller (or right-handed). And after a while you don’t think about it. You just make adjustments.

Part of what makes this such a great story is that what Zacchaeus really is, is determined. He really wants to see Jesus. Again and again in the Gospels we meet characters who have one goal: wanting to see Jesus. In this case, Zacchaeus knows that he’s going to have to make an extra effort. He runs ahead of the crowd. He finds a tree to climb “in order to see Jesus.”

Determination is a value we would do well to cultivate. Too often we let our dreams and our goals slip away because the obstacles seem too great. Sometimes the problem is that we don’t really know what we want. This is where Zacchaeus can serve as a model. He knows what he wants. He knows what he needs to do to get it.

Last September, Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, gave a “Last Lecture.” This has been something of a trend, almost a tradition, at various universities. Distinguished professors are asked to give a talk on what they believe their greatest contribution to have been. Except in Randy’s case, the theme wasn’t hypothetical. At the height of a truly remarkable career as a teacher, researcher and computer engineer, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and give three to six months to live. In his mid-40’s, married with three young children, he found himself facing the challenge of a lifetime. And he made it very clear as he began that he had looked at the reality straight on and said, “How do I respond?” The theme of his talk? “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.”

One of the many moving things he said was that brick walls are a way to let us prove how much we really want something. Like Zacchaeus finding a tree to raise him above the heads of the crowd, we need to find ways to go after those things that we really want, the things that will help us see Jesus, the things that will ensure that we’re the kind of person Jesus will see. Because once Zacchaeus was up in the tree, Jesus had no trouble picking him out from the crowd.

In the course of his talk, Randy Pausch also explained that even more important than personal achievement was going on to enable others to achieve their dreams. In a perfect world, Zacchaeus wouldn’t have to climb a tree. The people in the crowd would have helped him to the front or raised him on their shoulders so he could see. Zacchaeus, for his part, gets this message. In a very real way, this is what he’s doing when he tells Jesus that he’s going to give half his possessions to the poor and repay anyone that he’s short-changed in the past.

St. Paul prays that God will make the Thessalonians (and us) “worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith….” People like Zacchaeus and Randy Pausch can help us to make that effort. Maybe starting today.


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