Have you ever gone to the Rose Parade? Have you gone to any parade? How about a movie theater? The reason I ask these questions is because I have done the above, and it has been my experience that very often someone taller than I would stand/sit in front of me thus blocking my vision.
In the Gospel for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 19:1-10), the tax collector Zacchaeus (undoubtedly rich from being a tax collector) finds himself in a similar situation. He is short of stature, so when he hears that Jesus is coming into town he wants to see him. But he can’t because he is a “shorty” and can’t quite see over the heads of others.
So he does the next best thing. He notices a sycamore tree nearby and climbs it in order to have a better view of Jesus. When Jesus gets to the base of the tree he looks up and sees Zacchaeus. Curiously enough Jesus looks up, sees Zacchaeus, and then invites himself to his house.
Zacchaeus came down from the tree and graciously greeted Jesus. Then a curious thing happened. During this personal encounter between the two, Zacchaeus had a conversion. Quite likely, the conversion was due to the personal encounter with Jesus. Almost immediately Zacchaeus promises to give half of his possessions to the poor. And to top this off, Zacchaeus also promises to overcompensate those whom he has cheated. Jesus responds by saying that salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus.
What do we make of this? This conversion experience took place when Zacchaeus had the personal encounter with Jesus. It seems that whenever we have a “personal encounter” with Jesus, there is the distinct possibility of experiencing a conversion. So the image of the “tree” in this Gospel becomes for us the starting point of the experience of conversion.
Jesus, in fact, constantly invites himself to our “house” which could be the Mass, the Sacraments, Prayer, dealing with others, or any other experience where the Christological focus is implied. The invitation to visit our “house” is offered, but the acceptance will be dependent upon our willingness and ability to say “yes.” And like Zacchaeus we are all sinners.
Once we have had our personal encounter with Jesus, the conversion then takes place from being a “sinner” to being a “non-sinner.” As a result, the poor and others will be positively affected by our conversion.
The major point to keep in mind is that the basic context for Zachaeus’ conversion began with climbing the “tree.” All we have to do now is to find our own “tree” (however we can encounter Jesus) and climb it in order to receive the personal invitation from Jesus to come to our “house” and have the conversion experience. The fundamental task for us at the moment will be to find our “tree” and climb it. Only then can we see Jesus and have the experience of a personal encounter with him. What will be that “tree” for you?