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Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: July 11, 2020
By Brother Roch McClellan, OSB
The account of Zacchaeus found at the beginning of Chapter 19 of St. Luke’s Gospel always makes me smile. Zacchaeus, the “short of stature” and “wealthy” chief tax collector in the city of Jericho, feels a burning desire to see Jesus, but he can’t see over the crowd.
In my mind, I imagine a stern, dignified-looking man about 5-feet tall, dressed in finest clothes and standing at the back of the crowd, craning his neck and leaping about like some hyper kangaroo. Finally, in desperation, he clambers up a sycamore tree and perches, trying to catch sight of Jesus. Jesus approaches, looks up at him and openly invites himself (I imagine with a sly smile on his face) to stay at Zacchaeus’ house.
St. Luke tells us that Zacchaeus “came down quickly and received him with joy.” He also promises to use his vast wealth and possessions to help the poor and needy and those he cheated throughout his life. Unlike the rich official in Luke’s preceding chapter who cannot release his possessions and walks away from Jesus sad and dejected, Zacchaeus immediately renounces the trinkets and impediments that have filled his life and, with humility before Christ, receives true joy.
We can choose to cower in fear or glower in anger or we can choose to live in the joy of knowing the living God. We can choose to walk in the company of those saints who discovered joy by realizing that everything in this world does not rely on us; it all depends on God.
The contrast between the rich official and Zacchaeus exemplifies Proverbs 17:22: “A joyful heart is the health of the body, but a depressed spirit dries up the bones.”
Early in my life as a monk here at Subiaco Abbey, I had an unfortunate run-in with a candle flame and burned off one side of my beard. For months, I walked around with a foolishly lopsided beard. Whenever anyone asked, I would recount the incident and we would share a good laugh at my story. I like to say that I lighted up, then lightened up.
Years afterwards I would read about St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy and humor, deliberately shaving off half his beard and walking joyfully through the streets, sacrificing his pride on the altar of humility before God. I am often accused of not taking things in this world seriously, and I confess my guilt. Here is what I choose to take seriously: faith, family, the Church, relationship with Jesus Christ, eternal salvation and the love, care and welfare of all God’s children, everyone. All else is transitory: “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
The choice of joy is ours. We can choose to cower in fear or glower in anger or we can choose to live in the joy of knowing the living God. We can choose to walk in the company of those saints who discovered joy by realizing that everything in this world does not rely on us; it all depends on God.
In a May 2018 homily at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis said: “Joy does not mean living from laugh to laugh. No, it’s not that. Joy is not entertainment. No, it’s not that. It is something else. Christian joy is peace, peace that is deeply rooted, peace in the heart, the peace that only God can give. This is Christian joy.”
So lighten up. Smile more. Like Zacchaeus, radiate the joy of Christ. “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) You may think I’m wonky or goofy or just plain cracked, but that’s OK. To quote Groucho Marx: “Blessed are the cracked for they shall let in the light.”