Discovering New Life - The Way of Zacchaeus
A TV commercial portrayed a beautiful woman and a handsome young man sitting in an exclusive restaurant in the midst of a romantic setting, with flowers, linen, fine china, and an expensive bottle of wine. “I’m looking for the right woman to marry,” he says. She smiles and inquisitively asks, “And what would that take?” He confidently responds, “A very rich woman, who will help me get anything I want.” Then the scene flashes off to him getting into his BMW, shifting gears, gutting the engine, and zooming off into some endless mountain highway, supposedly into eternal bliss! Scene of a happy ending, right?
So it would seem and so the advertisers want us to think. Make lots of money, drive the best car in the world, have a beautiful young woman at your side – you can’t beat that! That’s living the dream!
Of course, we all know that that’s not the way life is. Look at the rich and famous, and you’ll see the same temptations, weaknesses and falls as the rest of us: the passion of envy, greed, pride, uncontrolled anger, hatred, gluttony and with the passage of time, the ravages of old age, sickness, ill health and all the familiar ailments. After all, beautiful women will get older, heavier, and less attractive. Even the rich will age, put on weight, become less agile, and eventually lose their hair, their sharp eye sight, their hearing and physical stamina.
What keeps people content, and gives lasting meaning to life? Certainly not just beauty, health, wealth and expensive toys!
Zacchaeus, the rich tax-collector provides us with that lesson from today’s Gospel story. He had it all: wealth, power, position, and support from the powerful Roman government. Furthermore he earned the title of CHIEF TAX-COLLECTOR of Jericho, the richest, most fertile region of Palestine. Like the man in the ad, he had it all. More money than he could spend, all his physical desires satisfied, a mansion with ample servants. He served the finest wines and treated his friends and guests to elaborate meals and banquets.
Yet when Jesus passed through Jericho one day, and all the people ran out to meet him, Zacchaeus was intrigued. After all, nothing important escaped his attention. If a significant government official or VIP came to Jericho, Zacchaeus would surely meet him. So he went out with the crowds to see Jesus. And yet, it was not only Zaccheus who sought out Jesus, but it was Christ Himself, who noticed Zacchaeus, and unexpectedly invited himself to his home for a meal.
No matter how materially successful we become, no matter what high position we attain, no matter how famous we are or think we are, there comes a day of reckoning. And that time came for Zacchaeus! He came face to face with Christ, and the contrast between the two couldn’t have been more stark.
Zacchaeus lived in extreme luxury; Jesus lived in utter simplicity.
Zacchaeus had servants to satisfy his every whim; Jesus had no servants, but was ready to serve even the people who followed him.
Zacchaeus had a high position in society, and lived in the most exclusive section of Jericho; Jesus had no home, “no place to lay his head”, and no position in society.
Zacchaeus could buy his way in or out of anything; Jesus had nothing to his name.
Zacchaeus indulged himself, denying himself nothing; Jesus fasted and prayed and had all that was necessary.
And yet, with all that Zacchaeus had, people hated him; and with the little that Jesus possessed, the crowds adored Him!
Once in the presence of Jesus, Zacchaeus suddenly realized that he himself was poverty-stricken in the things that really mattered, and that Jesus, who seemingly had nothing, ultimately had everything.
Whenever anyone encounters Jesus at such a deep, personal level, his/her life changes! This happened to Zacchaeus in the midst of a crowd. He listened to Christ’s words and encountered His presence. And then, as if struck by lightning, Zacchaeus changed! His heart converted!
“Look, half of my possessions, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”
Jesus affirmed such a radical change by proclaiming, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
A favorite religious hymn in America’s is AMAZING GRACE. It was written by John Newton (1750-1832), captain of a slave trading ship in the 18th century. As a slave trader, Newton would pack 600 slaves in the hull of a ship, chain them down on their side so that they couldn’t move to the left or right until he delivered them from the African coast to America. One day, however, he happened to read Thomas a Kempis’s classic, The Imitation of Christ. He encountered Christ and experienced a conversion. Not only did he reject his inhuman, slave trade, but he returned to England to study for the ministry. He would spend the last 43 years of his life preaching the Gospel and writing hundreds of Christian hymns, the most famous of which is AMAZING GRACE.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.
Newton's tombstone reads, "John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy."
That, of course, is the story of not only John Newton and Zacchaeus, but of everyone who authentically encountered Christ throughout the centuries – of all those who turned away from their evil ways and asked the Lord for His forgiveness and mercy! These converted individuals are people who came to the realization that life has fullest and truest meaning not by how rich we become, not by the high position we may attain in society, not by how many people we control, or by how many things we achieve, but by something much more profound. Life finds its deepest meaning when we encounter our Creator, and discover the life He has planned for us. Only after someone truly meets Christ will they discover the meaningful life of which Jesus spoke: “I HAVE COME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE AND HAVE IT ABUNDANTLY.” (John 10:10).
The Zacchaeus story tells us that once we turn our lives over to Christ, we, too, can become new persons. In our own way, where God has placed us, we too can do great things for God and for people. St. Paul described this new beginning when he wrote the words, “So, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Zacchaeus. John Newton. You and Me! Christ invites us all to encounter Him, to follow His way of life, and to discover the truly abundant life He promises all!
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