Recently a friend of mine had double cataract surgery. For her entire life she has had very poor vision, unable to see the face of the alarm clock by the bed. Following the surgery she was overjoyed with her new vision. At last, she could see!!
Our readings today are all about seeing. How do we see God’s created world? How do we see people? And how do we see Jesus? Let us review our readings so that we can truly see with the eyes of Christ.
We start our reflection by seeing the created world as God sees it. As the Book of Wisdom in our first reading says, “For you (God) love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned…for your imperishable spirit is in all things!” So, God loves all that he has created and his spirit is in all things. Pope Francis has used these texts to help us see how God’s love is for all of creation; for all human beings, not just his Chosen People. God’s love extends to all creatures and to all plants; to the earth, the sky and the sea. If God’s love is extended to all things and all creatures, then we must love in the same way.
The Book of Wisdom was written a hundred years before Christ and it was written by a Jew, probably living in Alexandria, Egypt where a large Jewish community existed. Caught between the values of the culture which was fatalistic toward doing good and condemning of the created world, the Book of Wisdom speaks of the goodness of all of creation and God’s love for all people. Today’s Wisdom reading reminds the Alexandrian Jewish community that their Lord is Lord of the whole universe and has mercy on ALL people. Their Lord overlooks people’s sins so that they may repent, loves all things that are and loathes nothing that has been created.
God loves all things: the earth, the plants, the animals.
God loves all people: those like us, and those who are different…all are God’s creation.
The challenge to us is this: Can I see and love as God sees and loves? This leads us into our Gospel story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector.
Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem and goes through the ancient city of Jericho, about 25 miles to the east of Jerusalem. Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector of that region and therefore, a wealthy man. Remember, tax collectors were Jews who collecting money for the Roman conquerors, often using dishonest means. Thus, they were seen as sinners and traitors. In our story, Zacchaeus, short in stature, wants to see Jesus so much that he is willing to climb a tree! Imagine a wealthy man who is willing to act like a child by climbing a tree…just to see Jesus. So, what did Zacchaeus see in Jesus that would cause him to act in such an childlike way?
I wonder if Zacchaeus say in Jesus someone who could really help him have hope? The religious leaders that Zacchaeus knew, the scribes and Pharisees, looked upon him with condemnation and scorn. These religious leaders were filled with judgment toward the tax collector. Yet, Zacchaeus knew that Jesus was different from these leaders and that the ones who were attracted to Jesus were the ones who felt that same judgment from the religious establishment: the sinners, prostitutes, the lepers AND the tax collectors. Zacchaeus knew that Jesus was deeply religious for he spoke constantly of the Kingdom of God, yet he knew Jesus was not like other religious people. Yet, in Jesus, there was no condemnation for anyone who came to him with humility and openness.
So, how do we see Jesus? Do I run from Jesus because I see only judgment from him, or do I run too Jesus, even climb trees to see him, because I know that he can free me from my chains and my past? Can I be filled with excitement and hope that the Lord Jesus wants to dwell in MY house, MY heart?
But, the story does not stop with how Zacchaeus saw Jesus, for it continues with Jesus SEEING Zacchaeus! Stopping under the tree where Zacchaeus is perched, Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, this day I will stay in your house! “ Zacchaeus is overjoyed at this blessing and proceeds to welcome Jesus into his home. When confronted by the religious leaders who complain that Jesus is staying in the home of a sinner, Zacchaeus responds by pledging that he will give half of what he has to the poor and repay four times over whomever he has defrauded. Jesus response to this? “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.”
How did Jesus see Zacchaeus? He saw a child of Abraham; a man of faith. Was Zacchaeus a sinner, surely. Had he stolen from others, undoubtably. But Jesus looks deeper into this man and sees a searching, eager heart. He sees a man who is open to Grace. We can only imagine the power in the gaze if Jesus as he looked up into the limbs of that tree and found the face of Zacchaeus. The gaze of Jesus was transforming for Zacchaeus. And this look of non-judgmental love enabled Zacchaeus to WANT to change his life!
So, Zacchaeus saw Jesus as a person who gave him hope.
Jesus saw Zacchaeus as a child of faith, open to the power of his Love.
Now, we are called to see Jesus as Zacchaeus did. Would I climb a tree to see him? I don’t mean literally (!!) but rather am I willing to move beyond my comfort zone so that I might find the gaze of Jesus who will ask me, “Can I stay at your house today?” Can I believe that Jesus is able to see beyond my sins and failures to the person I am inside…the person created in the image of God Himself? Can I see Jesus as Zacchaeus did?
And finally, can I see others as Jesus did? Not through eyes of judgment and condemnation, but through the eyes of Jesus, seeing the goodness of the heart? Allow me to conclude with a simple story.
Marsha brought her six year old daughter, Elli, to the children’s hospital to have a birth mark examined. Although Elli’s situation was not life threatening, many of the other children in the waiting room were dealing with much more serious illness. Marsha found a corner of the waiting room and began to read “Charlotte’s Web” to Elli, her favorite book. It was then that Anthony walked into the room; six feet tall, shaved head, muscular, multiple ear rings including a nose ring, and with a large tattoo of a snake coming all the way down his right arm. Anthony took the chair next to Elli, closing his eyes as he sat down.
Marsha was immediately uncomfortable and wanted to move to another part of the room but Elli had no such intention. She immediately began to talk with Anthony, asking her childlike questions: “Did it hurt to have those rings put in your ears? Why did you put that snake on your arm? Why are you here?” Each question, Anthony answered, concluding with, “I am here because the medicine they are giving me causes a lot of pain and they are going to help me with the pain.” “Good” said Elli, “I hope it works fast!”
I suggested to Elli that we find another part of the room to read, so as to not to disturb Anthony, but he said, “No, please read here...to me.” So, Marsha read for a few minutes and but again suggested they might move so as not to disturb Anthony. Again Anthony said, “It’s okay, I don’t mind…it helps me.”
It was then that Marsha’s eyes were open. She now could see Anthony, for who he was: a big kid, fighting a terrible disease, who had no mother to come with him to the hospital for treatment. And as Elli went to her appointment, Marsha stayed to read to another mother’s child, one with tattoos, ear rings and a shaved head.
Elli saw Anthony immediately for who he was. Marsha, the adult, took much longer. Can I see Jesus as he sees me? Can I see others as Jesus sees them? Maybe we all new spiritual cataract surgery!! May we let go of poor vision and see with the eyes of Christ.