Pastoral Message – October 30, 2022
Recently, I was speaking with my spiritual director and was expressing my disappointment in myself for being judgmental and impatient with some people even though I can be compassionate and understanding for others. I told him that I truly felt called to spend hours patiently assisting those who I felt were truly suffering. For instance, I am eager to comfort and support the man who lost his wife of 60 years, the woman who lost her son, or the young mother diagnosed with advanced cancer. In fact, I freely invest my time, energy and emotion in those people and those situations. On the other hand, there are many other people whom I encounter that I believe are difficult, dishonest, opinionated, gossipy, or simply unhappy. For those people I have almost no patience or tolerance. Frankly, my response to them typically ruins my good mood or takes my day down the dark path. In frustration, I asked, “How can I have so much patience and compassion for those who are obviously suffering and have no patience or compassion for those others?”
My spiritual director pointed me to this week’s gospel passage in which we meet Zacchaeus the tax collector and we hear about his life-changing encounter with Jesus. He suggested that I approach all people as Jesus approached Zacchaeus (and countless others), reaching out to them regardless of their positions or their attitudes. He invited me to be as tolerant of and patient with those who might otherwise annoy me as I am with those whose very sad circumstances touch my heart. In other words, it is not my place to determine who deserves love, patience and compassion and who does not. In my role as a priest, it is my duty to reach out to and to support all people. I should assume that even the most difficult people are suffering in some way and I need to minister to that suffering just as I would willingly do in situations where I can more easily detect the suffering and am eager to alleviate that suffering.
It was easy for the religious leaders to write off Zacchaeus because he was a tax collector and was a wealthy man. It was obvious to them that he was a sinner and did not deserve their patience or understanding. Yet, as we read the passage we realize that Zacchaeus was indeed suffering. In fact, that is likely why he “was seeking to see who Jesus was.” He may have hidden his suffering behind his performance of his daily duties, but he clearly was not content with his life. In fact, it sounds like he was feeling guilty about his past actions and the fact that his position allowed him to take advantage of people. In this sense, only Jesus was able to recognize and to minister to his suffering. He redeemed Zacchaeus by going to his home. Zacchaeus responded by unburdening himself of his guilt and offering to make amends to all whom he may have injured in the past. He tells Jesus, “half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” Interestingly, Jesus never made mention of his past sins. Apparently, Zacchaeus is so moved by the fact that Jesus took an interest in him, that he voluntarily confesses his sins and offers to repent. He obtains salvation by seeking Jesus, finding Jesus, and, most importantly, by responding to Jesus. It’s the same formula that we should follow.
Finally, it is important to recognize the difference between the way Zacchaeus reacts to Jesus with the way that the religious leaders react to Jesus. When Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus, “he came down quickly and received him [Jesus] with joy.” Zacchaeus was seeking Jesus. When he found Him, he reacted quickly and joyfully. We have many opportunities to seek and to encounter Jesus in our lives. When we see Him, do we react quickly and joyfully? Contrast the response of Zacchaeus with that of the others who were with Jesus at the time. When they saw Jesus going to the house of Zacchaeus they were not at all joyful. In fact, they “began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.’” Perhaps, we need to stop grumbling [complaining, judging, criticizing] about what everyone else is saying or doing.
Jesus could have stopped the grumbling immediately by saying, “Hey, knock it off! You don’t know a thing about me or about Zacchaeus. If you have been listening to me at all you would realize that you have no right to be grumbling.” Yet, that’s not how Jesus worked then or how He works now. Instead, He teaches us with his words and actions and expects us to understand the way that we should behave with one another. He will never twist our arms or force us to be more patient, to be kinder, to be more tolerant, or to be more understanding. That’s why we should all recognize that, just as Jesus welcomes us even when we hurt, irritate or disappoint Him, we must be as welcoming and patient with folks who we find irritating or annoying. We have no idea how they may be suffering. We should simply assume that they are indeed suffering and that it is our duty as Catholic Christians to focus our patience, care or compassion on alleviating that hidden suffering.