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Bible Reflections View Comments

Go Climb a Tree!
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, November 3, 2013
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The story of Zacchaeus is a favorite in illustrated children’s Bibles and Sunday school coloring sheets. No surprise there. There are two things children understand: the lure of climbing trees and being too short to see anything in a crowd except the kneecaps of surrounding adults.

Luke tells us that Zacchaeus is short. It’s easy to imagine a normally dignified businessman puffing and struggling to run along after Jesus and haul himself into a tree. But Zacchaeus was more than a celebrity chaser, hoping for a better glimpse of someone famous coming through town.

Part of what makes this such a great story is that Zacchaeus is incredibly determined to see Jesus. Zacchaeus knows he’s going to have to make an extra effort. He runs ahead of the crowd. He finds a tree to climb “in order to see Jesus.” He knows his limitations, and he’s not willing to let minor obstacles stand in his way.

Other people may have given up, may have made an excuse—the crowd is too large, it’s too late in the day, I have other work to do—and missed the opportunity of a lifetime. Not Zacchaeus. He was willing to do whatever he had to do, with little care for what people would think of him.

Determination is a value we would do well to cultivate. Too often we let our dreams and goals slip away because the obstacles seem too great. Sometimes the problem is that we don’t really know what we want. This is where Zacchaeus can serve as a model. He knows what he wants. He knows what he needs to do to get it.

Other times, we run into roadblocks on the way to where we want to go, and getting around them seems too difficult, too complicated, too challenging. We let other people convince us that what we want isn’t worth that much effort.

Like Zacchaeus finding a tree to raise himself above the heads of the crowd, we need to find ways to go after those things we really want, the things that will help us see Jesus, the things that will ensure we’re the kind of person Jesus will see. Once Zacchaeus was up in the tree, Jesus had no trouble picking him out from the crowd.

In a perfect world, Zacchaeus would have had no need to climb a tree. The people in the crowd would have helped him to the front or raised him on their shoulders so he could see. In a very real way, this is what Zacchaeus is learning to do when he tells Jesus that he’s going to give half his possessions to the poor and repay anyone he’s short-changed in the past. Even though he had to make an extra effort to see Jesus, he’s going to do what he can to help other people along the way.

We strive after many things in the course of our lives. Some are worth the effort involved; others are not. Today’s Gospel raises the question of whether we go after the things of God with the same determination that we apply to other goals in our lives. Clearly Zacchaeus had been quite successful in his business life. That may have given him the determination he needed to make a significant change upon meeting Jesus.

St. Paul prays that God will make the Thessalonians (and us) “worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith....” People like Zacchaeus can help us to make that effort— maybe starting today.



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Peter and Paul: 
		<strong>Peter (d. 64?)</strong>. St. Mark ends the first half of his Gospel with a triumphant climax. He has recorded doubt, misunderstanding and the opposition of many to Jesus. Now Peter makes his great confession of faith: "You are the Messiah" (Mark 8:29b). It was one of the many glorious moments in Peter's life, beginning with the day he was called from his nets along the Sea of Galilee to become a fisher of men for Jesus. 
<p>The New Testament clearly shows Peter as the leader of the apostles, chosen by Jesus to have a special relationship with him. With James and John he was privileged to witness the Transfiguration, the raising of a dead child to life and the agony in Gethsemane. His mother-in-law was cured by Jesus. He was sent with John to prepare for the last Passover before Jesus' death. His name is first on every list of apostles. </p><p>And to Peter only did Jesus say, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:17b-19). </p><p>But the Gospels prove their own trustworthiness by the unflattering details they include about Peter. He clearly had no public relations person. It is a great comfort for ordinary mortals to know that Peter also has his human weakness, even in the presence of Jesus. </p><p>He generously gave up all things, yet he can ask in childish self-regard, "What are we going to get for all this?" (see Matthew 19:27). He receives the full force of Christ's anger when he objects to the idea of a suffering Messiah: "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do" (Matthew 16:23b). </p><p>Peter is willing to accept Jesus' doctrine of forgiveness, but suggests a limit of seven times. He walks on the water in faith, but sinks in doubt. He refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, then wants his whole body cleansed. He swears at the Last Supper that he will never deny Jesus, and then swears to a servant maid that he has never known the man. He loyally resists the first attempt to arrest Jesus by cutting off Malchus's ear, but in the end he runs away with the others. In the depth of his sorrow, Jesus looks on him and forgives him, and he goes out and sheds bitter tears. The Risen Jesus told Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep (John 21:15-17). </p><p><strong>Paul (d. 64?)</strong>. If the most well-known preacher today suddenly began preaching that the United States should adopt Marxism and not rely on the Constitution, the angry reaction would help us understand Paul's life when he started preaching that Christ alone can save us. He had been the most Pharisaic of Pharisees, the most legalistic of Mosaic lawyers. Now he suddenly appears to other Jews as a heretical welcomer of Gentiles, a traitor and apostate. </p><p>Paul's central conviction was simple and absolute: Only God can save humanity. No human effort—even the most scrupulous observance of law—can create a human good which we can bring to God as reparation for sin and payment for grace. To be saved from itself, from sin, from the devil and from death, humanity must open itself completely to the saving power of Jesus. </p><p>Paul never lost his love for his Jewish family, though he carried on a lifelong debate with them about the uselessness of the Law without Christ. He reminded the Gentiles that they were grafted on the parent stock of the Jews, who were still God's chosen people, the children of the promise. </p><p>In light of his preaching and teaching skills, Paul's name has surfaced (among others) as a possible patron of the Internet.</p> American Catholic Blog The way of the cross is unavoidably uphill. Christians don’t get to carry their cross downhill. Suffering has always been inextricably linked with Christianity, but those who carry their cross willingly in these times can serve as an example and inspiration to all of us.

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