What Do We Seek After?
What do we seek after in life? Well, if we look at how we spend our time, we can get an idea of what we seek after.
For example, how many people spend countless hours being enamored with the rich and the famous? With celebrities and superstars? Watch this weekend during the NFL championship weekend, and you will see literally tens of thousands of people all wearing football jerseys with the names of their favorite players, fanatically screaming for their team, and longing to get a photograph, an autograph, or some other memorabilia to show they were present for the game. And of course, that’s only for sports. What about our fascination with Hollywood stars? Or our favorite musicians? And then there are the mighty and powerful in politics and business? How many hours do people spend looking on the internet, reading People magazine, or watching shows which offer a glimpse into the life of the rich and famous.
To what end? All this attention and adulation over the rich and famous leads to what end? To a fantasy of dreaming, “What if…?”
I read a fascinating quote from St. Makarios the Great, a 4th century desert ascetic we celebrated earlier this week, and realized not much has changed over the past 1700 years ago. St Makarios noted in his day and age how the masses were enamored with the rich and famous:
“It is significant how deeply attracted people are by the spectacle of an earthly king and how eagerly they seek after this spectacle; how everyone who lives in a city where the king has his residence longs to catch a glimpse simply of the extravagance and ostentation of his entourage…(Does that sound familiar for today’s standards?!? But he goes on to say:)
If the sight of a mortal king is so important to worldly people, how much more desirable must the sight of the Immortal King be to those into whom some drops of the Holy Spirit have fallen and whose hearts have been smitten by Divine Love? For this the saints will relinquish all friendship with the world, so that they may keep that divine longing continually in their hearts, preferring nothing more than God.”
It's interesting to reflect on the contrast between our interest and fascination for worldly things – often spending countless hours and attention on things that initially may seem so dazzling and beautiful, yet end up quite superficial and temporal – compared with our desire for all that is holy and divine, for that which will last forever.
How much time do we spend on the temporal, and how much time do we seek after what is truly eternal? Do we even value that which will last forever? Sometimes we need a radical wake up call to come to our senses to learn what is truly important.
Today’s Gospel story offers an example of a surprising wake-up call – an unexpected event that changes a man who was already quite focused on worldly possessions and power, yet discovers something much more important and follows a new path in life, a journey which will lead him into eternity.
Zacchaeus was a 1st century Jew who worked for the powerful Romans. He was the chief tax-collector in the wealthy region of Jericho. He obviously didn’t care much for his own people, or even his own reputation. He was interested in riches and power. And as a chief tax-collector for the Romans, he was both quite rich and powerful. Yet for all his worldly riches, he seemed to be missing something in his life. He was looking for something more.
So when Zacchaeus heard that the popular, itinerant preacher, Jesus of Nazareth, was passing through his town, Zacchaeus felt compelled to catch a glimpse of him. He probably never thought he would meet the man, but he simply wanted to see him. Was it the popularity of Jesus that intrigued him, or did he hear something about his teachings? Whatever it was, something compelled Zacchaeus to seek after Christ.
And so, Zacchaeus risked going out into the midst of a huge crowd, a crowd of people who probably despised him, just to see Jesus. And when he couldn’t get through the crowd, because of its size and his small stature, he decided to do something quite unusual. He ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up into a tree, just to catch a glimpse of the Lord.
Imagine, a grown, dignified man climbing a tree like a little child. This unusual effort obviously revealed a strong desire within Zacchaeus. Was it his desire, or maybe we can even say a hidden need, that he wanted to see Christ. And his effort, this desire, pays off. As Jesus walks by the tree, Zacchaeus gets a clear look at Jesus, but more importantly, our Lord gets a clear look at Zacchaeus. And he surprises everyone by calling out “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for I must come to your house today.”
Everyone was shocked at this unexpected event. Zacchaeus was the famous, wealthy, yet despised tax-collector. He only wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus, and all of the sudden the tables are turned and he is welcoming Jesus into his house. The crowd is shocked, and scandalized, because they see this holy teacher going into the home of someone everyone looks at as a terrible sinner, a despised traitor of their nation and a wealthy thief who got rich off stealing from the people.
This encounter with Christ, though, fundamentally changes Zacchaeus. In an instant, Zacchaeus realizes the futility of his life’s pursuit for riches and fame, and comes to understand the importance of what is holy and eternal. In Jesus’ welcoming presence and loving words, Zacchaeus discovers what life is all about, and he responds to Christ’s invitation as a changed man: “Lord, half of my goods I’m going to give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will restore it fourfold.”
Zacchaeus had tasted wealth and fame, and realized its futility. In Jesus, he discovered the meaning of life and the path to eternity, willingly giving up all his wealth and position to become a new person.
In Zacchaeus, we see a path of discovery – starting with a desire for something more than what this world offers and leading to a life-changing encounter with Christ.
What do we seek after? May we all reflect on what we are pursing in life, and strive to reorient our lives towards all that is holy and eternal.
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Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019