A Homily I Wish I Had Preached on Zacchaeus — Father Austin Fleming 

[Just about every preacher is sensitive to comments about his or her preaching. Oddly enough many tend not to believe compliments because we are almost always our own harshest critics.  Here is a homily Father Austin Fleming preached six years ago. It is an excellent example of helping hearers and readers see themselves in the reading being preached and drawing connections for one’s spiritual journey. Be sure to check out this Concord Pastor’s blog that can be found on my blogroll in the right column of this blog.]  

Niels Larsen Stevns- Zakæus

We don’t know what St. Peter looked like,
or John the Baptist, or Mary, or Jesus himself.
We don’t know if they were tall or short,
handsome and beautiful or plain and unremarkable.
We don’t know if they were fat or skinny,
and we don’t know the color of their eyes or hair
The scriptures are pretty much silent
when it comes to the appearance of its characters.

But along comes Zacchaeus and for some reason
St. Luke decides it’s important
that we know that Zacchaeus was short.
Who cares?
Who cares if Zacchaeus had to climb a tree to see Jesus?

Does it make any difference?
Maybe it does.

Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was 
seeking to see who Jesus was…
I’ll bet it’s a fair guess on my part
that just about everyone here this morning is,
in one way or another,
seeking to see who Jesus is…

Now, Zacchaeus had trouble seeing Jesus passing by
because he was – well, you know – short!
There was something about Zacchaeus
that made it difficult for him to see who Jesus was.

I wonder:
is there anything about you, anything about me,
that makes it difficult for us to see who Jesus is?

One thing about me
that makes it difficult for me to see who Jesus is,
is fear: my fear that if I see him,
he may look me in the eye and ask something of me
that I may not be ready or willing to give.

For some, it’s their doubts
that make it difficult for them to see who Jesus is:
doubts about faith; doubts about the church;
doubts about God…

For others what makes it difficult or them to see Jesus
may be an unhealed hurt from the past;
disappointment in prayer;
a skeptical mind;
anger at the church…

And for others…
well sometimes only I know for myself,
and you for yourself, what it is about us
that makes it difficult to see Jesus clearly.

Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus.
I wonder; what do we need to climb?
How do we need to change our perspective
so that we might see Jesus more clearly?

Zacchaeus had the sense to get above things,
to get beyond his own limitations
to see the One he was seeking.
And once he did that, once he climbed that tree,
then the One he was seeking not only saw him
but called him down from the tree
– and went home with him!

(See! That’s what I fear!
Jesus getting so close
that he invites himself to lunch at my place
and sits down at my kitchen table to – talk…)

Zacchaeus often gets a bad rap as a tax collector
and it’s often presumed that he was a cheat and a thief
until he met Jesus.
But the Hebrew word from which Zacchaeus’ name comes
means “pure, clean and innocent.”

The Jericho tax collector up in the tree is “Mr. Clean!”
Perhaps Luke is telling us something here.
No matter how good we might be,
there’s always more to see in Jesus
than what we have already seen.
There’s always more to seek, more to find.
I could climb a tree every day of my life
and every day see Jesus more clearly than the day before.
Acknowledging our own limitations
and looking for ways to work with them,
and to work around them,
and to get beyond them,
is a challenge that will be with all of us, always.

We are here, today, because we want to see Jesus
more clearly today than we did yesterday.

Well, we’ve come to the right place:
we’ve climbed the right tree!
For in this place:
we can hear his very voice in the scriptures;
we can meet him in one another;
and as he invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house,
so he invites himself to our table, his altar.
Here he gives us much more than half of all he has,
he gives everything for us in the Eucharist.
In bread, broken as his body, he gives us healing.
In the cup, poured out as his blood, he gives us life.

He called Zacchaeus long ago and he calls us today
to come down quickly
for he wants to stay, to make his home with us.

For even as we seek to see him,
he has long been seeking us, the lost,
to find us and to give us his peace.

[LINK: http://concordpastor.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2007-11-06T01:14:00-05:00&max-results=10&reverse-paginate=true%5D


About Paul Wharton

I am a cradle Catholic, a native West Virginian, and a priest since April 24, 1982. Spiritual Direction has made a tremendous difference in my life and I encourage people to try it out. My motto is "Progress not perfection." I am grateful that God has done for me what I could not do for myself.
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6 Responses to A Homily I Wish I Had Preached on Zacchaeus — Father Austin Fleming 

  1. SaintlySages says:

    Perhaps the reason why the Bible hardly ever mentions the external features of people is because the internal character of a person is far more important than his external features. God bless!

  2. Catherine says:

    What a different perspective. Live it. Thanks.

  3. Catherine says:

    What a different perspective. Love it. Thanks.

  4. Denise says:

    I love this homily. It is the first time I ever thought about Zacchaeus in this way and I can relate to this on every level, and admire what he did get beyond his own limitations. God encourages me, and I shy away, and say I’m not worthy, not able, and eventually, I too, climb. There’s always more to seek, more to find, and the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. We all need to strive to go beyond our limitations, all the days of our life. Thank you for this timely reminder.

  5. Anne Comeaux says:

    I love this homily. It made me think of something a priest friend of mine said a while back. “When we disagree with things someone is doing, we need to remind ourselves that other people sin differently than I sin.” That has stayed with me and perhaps enables me to get closer to Jesus.

  6. Kathleen Kerns says:

    What a wonderful homily! Thought provoking and encouraging, it gets to the heart of the matter at hand. Thank you for posting!

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