Come Down From the Tree: An Invitation to Rejoin to the Community of Believers
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by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
October 31, 2016

Editor’s note: Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C) on November 2 and 3, 2013, at then-Blessed John XXIII University Parish in Knoxville, TN.  The homily is based on the day’s readings: Wisdom 11:22 – 12:2; Psalm 145; 2 Thessalonians 1:11 – 2:2; Luke 19:1-10.



Four-and-a-half months and 10 chapters ago in the Gospel of Luke, we began to journey with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. This is our final week on the road! 

In our passage today, Jesus is near the town of Jericho. He is planning to pass quickly through the town, presumably with the roughly 120 people traveling with him. Word has apparently raced ahead that Jesus is approaching, because the people of Jericho have lined the streets to see him.

Of all these people, there is only one whom Luke speaks about – Zacchaeus. In a few short words, we learn a lot about him – wealthy, chief tax collector. From this, we can conclude that most people in Jericho didn’t like Zacchaeus, since he was collaborating with the Roman occupiers and exploiting his neighbors.

Today, we’ll pray with this gospel passage using a technique called simple contemplation. We’ll read the passage three times, and each time, I’ll give us some guided questions so that we can imagine ourselves in the scene. We’ll then take a few minutes for silent prayer each time. If a cell phone rings, a person coughs, a kid acts up, or you find your thoughts drifting, that’s OK. When you become aware of a distraction, just say “oh well” and gently bring yourself back to silent contemplation.

But first, let us rejoice that salvation has come to us!


We will now pray with our gospel passage for the first time. Imagine that you are a member of the crowd in the city of Jericho. 

  • What do you think of Zacchaeus? 
  • How do you feel?  
  • What do you experience, as a member of the crowd?  

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

Please take at least three minutes to pray with the passage before you continue reading.


As we pray with this passage a second time, imagine that you are Jesus in the story. 

  • What do you see?
  • What do you experience?
  • As Jesus, how do you feel as you gaze upon Zacchaeus?

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

Please take a few minutes to pray with the passage before you continue reading.


For this third time, imagine that you are Zacchaeus.  

  • What do you hear? 
  • What do you feel?
  • As Zacchaeus, how are you changed by the experience?

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

Please take a few minutes to pray with the passage before you continue reading.


When I visualize this scene, one word comes to mind:  isolation. Zacchaeus is in a crowd of people, yet he is separated from them. He’s watching a procession go by, but from a distance.  

Part of the human condition is dancing the line between forging our unique personal identity and belonging to a community of people. We all need our alone time to care for ourselves and to grow in relationship with God, but as Christians, we must also spend time in community in order to care for ourselves and grow in relationship with God.

Are there people in your life who – like Zacchaeus – are isolated even while still present within the crowd? Are you called to invite these people back into the community?

How are you yourself like Zacchaeus? How are you isolating yourself from other people? How are you isolating yourself from God? Are you waiting for an invitation to come down from your tree and join the community of disciples?

Consider this your invitation. What are you waiting for?

“Come Down From the Tree”

music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynne Ahrens

recording by Audra McDonald on her album, How Glory Goes:

 

Come down from the tree 
Just open your arms and trust 
You know in your heart
That one of these days you must 
Come down from the tree 
It’s easy to feel afraid 
And hard giving up 
That safe little nest you’ve made 
When you have something so warm and familiar to cling to 
your arms won’t let go 
You close your eyes to the dark
press your nose to the bark 
and hold on 
Yes I know 
But down below 
Is where you must be 
And what you were meant to do 
So hold out your hand 
And listen to someone who 
Was once in a tree like you 
Soon you’ll have someone so warm and familiar to cling to 
and love ‘til you die 
When your heart knows what it needs 
you must go where it leads 
Leave the nest 
Learn to fly 
And that’s why I 
came down from my tree 
And all that I held so dear 
When I found my love 
The rest of my life was clear 
Come down from your tree 
Come down 
I’m here