I have invited Fr. Marvin Labasan, one of our young priests (ordained 2 months ago) to take my column for this Sunday. I thank him for graciously accepting, and here it is.
What is it that you desire the most?
One of our natural human capacities is to desire. Human desire is varied and multiple. Some desire wealth; others fame, good health, a better future or a trusted companion. Someone may just wish to have the latest cellphone unit or a child may simply want to have a burger or a candy. All of these things, from our little wants to our grandest longings, spring from our deep yearning that needs to be fulfilled or a thirst that needs to be quenched.
However, while human desires are varied and innumerable, they are nevertheless directed towards one thing, namely, happiness. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that “man desires happiness naturally and by necessity.” This means that even before any possibility of our own choices arises, we are already irrevocably “on the way,” and the destination is called happiness. In the same manner, our desire for wealth, fame, good health, etc. is nothing but a movement toward that one thing we desire the most. For we know well that these things cannot completely satisfy the longing we feel.
Therefore, it is always good to examine ourselves for the thing that we desire the most in life.
In the gospel, we read about a tax collector, named Zacchaeus. Like us, Zacchaeus had something he desired the most, and that was to see Jesus. This desire of Zacchaeus did not simply spring from any wishful thinking or faddism, or because he was carried away by the overwhelming crowd. The original Greek text speaks of a strong desire to find Jesus. What Zacchaeus felt then when he heard that the Lord was passing through Jericho was a strong urge to meet Jesus or even to have a glimpse of him.
Two things however stood in the way which hindered him from seeing Jesus, namely his stature and the crowd.
Zacchaeus’ stature may not only refer to his height but also to how he perceived himself and how people perceived him. The shortness of Zacchaeus speaks of his physical stature, as well as of his social and spiritual stature. We are aware of the bad public reputation of tax collectors in the Jewish culture. How much more if one was a chief tax collector, like Zacchaeus? This is why the shortness of Zacchaeus speaks not only of his physical stature but also of his social and spiritual stature. Sin and corruption shrink our souls and these too can hinder us from seeing the Lord.
The other hinderance was the crowd. According to St. Cyril of Alexandria, the crowd here means, “the tumultuous state of an ignorant multitude.” They were the ones who went to merely see and spectate. Yet, the crowd here may speak to us of another reality – the crowd of business, the crowd of hate, the crowd of pessimism, the crowd of mistrust – these too can hinder us from meeting Jesus.
The gospel tells us that Zacchaeus ran before the crowd and climbed the sycamore tree so he could see the Lord. As the Lord passed came to the spot where Zacchaeus was, Jesus addressed him saying, “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at your house.” Zacchaeus must have been astonished and startled when he heard this invitation. Jesus called him by name.
What an exhilarating experience for Zacchaeus! Imagine yourself being addressed by the Lord like Zacchaeus. Despite your countless sins, he still addresses you by name. It has been said that the devil knows our name but calls us by our sins, and God knows our sins yet calls us by name. The Lord knows our woundedness, the filth and foulness of our sins, and he still calls us by our name.
In one of his conferences Fr. Timoner, OP, spoke of mercy, not just as a matter of the heart but a matter of the mind. He said, “It is interesting that for us, to ‘know’ or ‘understand’ is to be ‘compassionate.’ The Filipino word ‘unawa’ encapsulates this best. For us to understand another person mercy must come first – una ang awa.” It is mercy that disposes us to understand another person and this is the disposition of the Lord in today’s gospel.
This encounter brought great joy to Zacchaeus knowing that there was a special someone who understood him and saw him as he was. That is why, he exclaimed during their meal, “Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.”
The desire of Zacchaeus to see Jesus was fulfilled, and it brought him conversion and salvation. At first, it was Zacchaeus who desired to see Jesus yet, as the gospel unfolds, we come to realize that it was actually the Lord who earnestly desired to see Zacchaeus. The Lord desires to meet us all. He loves to reach us all. However, he can only meet us and reach us if we allow ourselves to be met and reached by Him. How? Like Zacchaeus we must constantly desire to seek him and find him and not be distracted by our various crowds, our temporal desires, and our sinfulness. Our crowds can be managed, our temporal desires can be re-oriented and our sins can be forgiven.*