Zacchaeus was "short in stature" as we read in this Sunday's gospel passage (Luke 19:1-10). This detail is one that we perhaps often overlook. Zacchaeus was height-challenged, a challenge that many of us of "normal" height may not consider a big deal. It can be a big deal. For Zacchaeus, it very well may have been. Depending on how short he was, he may have been prohibited from full participation in the liturgical cult of ancient Israel. Indeed, in Leviticus, chapter 21, we read "no one who has a blemish shall draw near (to offer the food of his God), one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand,or a hunchback, or a dwarf..." Zacchaeus does not let it be a big deal, however. He does not let it be an obstacle to encounter. And Jesus responds to his hopefulness, and, in this welcoming encounter, Jesus lifts the prohibition. Our difficulties need not hinder our worship; au contraire, a springboard they can be.
Jesus encounters and welcomes each of us in our challenges, in our brokenness of body or psyche or heart. He comes to the home of our hearts to stay. Such indwelling sets us free. His presence does not necessarily heal all things (alas!). His presence liberates our hearts to love more, even making mysterious use of the challenges to do so, thereby granting joy in the midst of it all.
Let us eagerly welcome Jesus.
Yours in Him,
Is humility an outdated caricature of respect that, in fact, hinders human progression? Not according to Jesus! In fact, in this Sunday’s gospel (Luke 18:9-14), Jesus says that “all who humble themselves will be exalted”. Jesus’ exhortation certainly does not preclude taking charge of our lives and seeking to accomplish great things. Jesus speaks at a deeper level, in reference to divine love, which, of course, in turn, transforms our lives. Although there is legitimate humility before persons with great minds and great hearts, the humility of which Jesus speaks entails seeing with eyes of faith. The humility of which Jesus speaks positions our hearts to receive the greatness of God.
Let Scripture and Tradition to speak to us:
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Jesus sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Wisdom is with the humble.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
There is no humility without love.
Saint Catherine of Siena (+1380)
There is something in humility which strangely exalts the heart…
No one reaches the kingdom of Heaven except by humility.
St Augustine (+430)
There is more value in a single act of humility than in all the knowledge in the world.
Saint Teresa of Avila (+1582)
The prayer of a humble soul at once penetrates the heavens and presents itself before the throne of God, and will not depart thence till God listens to it…However sinful such a soul may be, God can never despise a heart that humbles itself.
St. Alphonsus de Liguori (+1787)
The most obvious theme for this Sunday is that of perseverance. The collect (opening prayer) asks, "that the Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name". St. Paul, in the second reading, encourages Timothy (and us!) to "continue in what you have learned and firmly believed" and to "be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable". And, Jesus offers "a parable about the need to pray always and not to lose heart."
19th-century British writer W. E. Hickson is credited with the well-known proverb:
Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don't succeed,
Try, try, try again
British Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon (+1892) says that "By perseverance the snail reached the ark".
A question arises: does perseverance in our relationship with God, in the Christian life, consist in trying, trying, and trying again? Well, perhaps. There are choices to be made-sometimes hard, often repeatedly. There is a deliberate effort that consists in operating from deep within the heart, undeterred by inner or outer circumstances, "persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable". But, perseverance in our relationship with God, in the Christian life, does not consist is "grinning and bearing it", in "white-knuckling" it across the finish line. The parable is "about the need to pray always and not to lose heart". Friends of Jesus are not Stoic. Friends of Jesus courageously find refuge in His heart. To pray always is, repeatedly, to bury oneself, in love, in Jesus. It is in His Heart, "fountain of eternal life", as St. Gertrude (+1302), the German Benedictine mystic, says, that we do not lose heart. Indeed, with her, we can say to Jesus, "your Heart is a glowing furnace of Love. You are my refuge and my sanctuary".
What more can we ask? As wayward as I may be at times, Jesus will not budge, Jesus is not going anywhere. “He remains faithful.”
In this Sunday’s second reading (2 Timothy 2:8-15), St. Paul speaks with the utmost confidence to St. Timothy, assuring him of what God has in store for his children. Paul is so confident and so much does he love his sisters and brothers in Christ, that he is able to “suffer hardship” and “endure everything” for their sake.
Paul shares with Timothy poetic lines from what may be part of an early Christian hymn:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful--
for he cannot deny himself.
Jesus is indeed not going anywhere. “He cannot deny himself”. He will not abandon us even to and in our infidelity, for we have been incorporated into Him. We belong to Him and are members of His Body. He will never leave us. Indeed, to deny us would be to deny Himself. How mysterious. How reassuring. How liberating.
Let us walk as confident children of light. Let us, as Paul exhorts, “do our best to present ourselves to God as ones approved by him, workers who have no need to be ashamed”.
Yours in Christ,
A bold and noble request. An understandable request that any good disciple would make. A request to which Jesus could have responded very simply and very quickly: “Sure, hold still. Poof! Voila. More faith.” Why, however, does Jesus not simply lay hands on them, and then move on with his ministry? Instead, He speaks to them of faith: “If only you had faith the size of a mustard seed...” Jesus points to the gift of faith that they already have—enough even to uproot a mulberry tree! A little faith is very powerful.
There is power in faith because faith connects us to God. If faith were simply belief system, Jesus’ words would make little sense. But, faith opens us to God Who is Light and in Whom is the power. This is why only a little is needed.
Why the unusual example of uprooting a tree to make the point, a metaphor that is ecologically de-structive? Leave the poor mulberry tree alone! A mulberry tree is particularly tenacious. We know from parish experience! The front yard hedge along 12th Street is (well, was) made of several mulberry trees. So tenacious is the mulberry tree, that we just had the hedge removed. Perhaps Jesus is telling us that we need not worry. With just a little faith—which we have!—we really, actively engage Him who meets us in any situation. Nothing can prevent our encounter with God. And so, no tenacious difficulty will have the last word. All we need is a little faith…
Yours in Christ,
From the desk of the Rector