BY BR. CHARLES JACKSON, S.J.
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF LIS
The story of Zacchaeus the tax collector is well-known and we all know what he said to Jesus during the dinner with him: that he would give half his possessions to the poor and that if he had extorted anything from anyone he would repay it fourfold. But I believe that there is far more to the person of Zacchaeus than simply a rich tax collector. I sense in him a burning desire for understanding, acceptance and love. Allow Zacchaeus to tell you his story.
I have to tell you what happened. I like to think of myself as a thoughtful and intelligent man - and I am a thoughtful and intelligent man - but all that began to get muddled about two months ago. It was just after Jared's wife Naomi gave birth to Noah, their first son. I began to hear reports about an itinerant teacher in Galilee by the name of Jesus. I understood that this Jesus had grown up in Nazareth, but now called Capernaum his home. People spoke of the wonders and signs that he did, but they seem to have been more impressed by what he said and how he said it than by anything he did. In a word, they seem to have been most impressed by him. This Jesus seems to have touched the hearts of all who listened to him or in any way met with him. But what I found most striking about everything that people said about him was that this Jesus welcomed everyone - and I mean everyone - and even shared meals with them. Moreover, I am told that he even shared meals with public sinners and tax collectors. I suspect that this was what first sparked my interest. You see, I'm a tax collector - the chief tax collector, in fact, here in Jericho. At first, I was only mildly interested in these reports about this Jesus - I mean, one hears a lot of news in a place like this - but several weeks ago, I became aware that I was getting more and more interested in this Jesus and had begun to ask people about him. I suspect that I was initially impressed simply by the signs and wonders he did, or by the manner in which he seemed to touch the hearts of those who heard him, but when I heard of him sharing meals with public sinners and tax collectors - people so very much like me - well, that seems to have sparked something in me and my thoughtful and intelligent nature began to get more than a little confused. I mean, I was not simply interested in this Jesus; I found that I was thinking a great deal about him and was beginning to imagine myself listening to him and speaking with him and even sharing a meal with him. But this was not simply daydreaming; it was something I most ardently desired. But all of that seemed so impossible, so utterly beyond my wildest dreams - until yesterday afternoon, when I heard that Jesus was approaching Jericho.
The word must have gotten out and gone far and wide, because when I ran up to the north gate, I found that a huge crowd had gathered. People were just everywhere. I was devastated. I so very much wanted to see Jesus, but my hope of seeing him - simply catching a glimpse of him or speaking with him - seem to have been dashed. You see, I'm a short man, shorter than most everyone; I get lost in a crowd. I was almost in tears. But as I turned to make my way home, I found myself brought face-to-face with a small column that I had never noticed before. It was no more than four feet in height and was probably just a remnant of a larger column which, in turn, was part of some larger structure. I had no idea why it was there, but it seemed that it was almost meant to have been there - for me. A small tree stood next to the column and would help me to climb up on it. I suspect that I looked more than a little foolish as I clambered up on the column, but I was now able to see above the crowd. I had found the perfect place to see Jesus.
As events unfolded, I didn't have to wait very long. No sooner had I climbed up on the column than I became aware of considerable commotion: a large number of people suddenly began to enter the city. As they entered, I noticed that they were soon stepping aside and turning to look back through the gate as though they were waiting for someone, and I suspected that they were waiting for Jesus. Finally, as a large cluster of people came through the gate, I saw Jesus. I don't know what I expected Jesus to look like - someone taller, perhaps, or more visually impressive - but what I remember most about him from that first glimpse was the personal warmth that seemed to radiate from him. I mean, as he looked out at the crowd, it seems that he wasn't seeing a crowd of people, but individual persons - people who had names and meaning and were worthy of love. In fact, it seemed that love radiated from him - and I felt privileged simply to be able to see him. And I was delighted that I had found such a wonderful place from which to see him and that he would pass so close to where I was standing. But what happened next is something I had never hoped for - or even imagined - but it is something that I will never forget; it is something that has changed my life. As he approached the place where I was standing, Jesus paused for a moment. At first, it seemed that he was simply gazing at the people around him - and I suspect that he was - but then he turned and looked up at me. I don't know how long he looked at me, but it was more than a passing glance, but in that glance I found something I'll never forget - for he seemed to look into my soul. I don't know what he saw there - Did he see my confusion and fear? Did he see my loneliness and hunger for love? Did he see the uncertainty that seemed almost to define my life? Did he see every-thing that I had ever hoped for and longed for? I don't know what he saw as he looked at me, but as he continued to look at me I sensed in him compassion and understanding and acceptance and love.
Now if Jesus had simply moved on, it would still have been a life-changing experience for me - but he continued to look at me. But then, just when I thought he might be turning away to continue his journey - for it seemed that he intended simply to pass through Jericho - he stretched out his hand toward me and with the love that seemed to radiate from him he called out, "Zacchaeus." I was stunned to hear him call my name. Perhaps he had heard others speak it, but he was calling me. "Zacchaeus," he called out again, "Come down! - for I must stay at your house today."
I really don't know exactly what happened next. Everything is now a blur. All I knew was that Jesus was calling me. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that Jesus would want to speak with me - much less share a meal with me and stay with me. Me! He was calling me! I fought off my dazed mind and somehow managed to climb down from the column. My head seemed to be spinning. I wasn't sure what was happening to me. Was all of this simply a dream? But as I turned to face Jesus, I discovered that he was right in front of me and was extending his arms toward me. "Zacchaeus," he said warmly as he took my hands in his. He was looking into my eyes, yet it seemed that he was looking into my soul. "Zacchaeus," he said again, "I must stay at your house today." I stood there, feeling like I was still in a daze as I looked into his eyes. I wanted to stay there forever.
The Many Faces of Ohana
BY REV. DAVID C. ROBINSON, S.J.
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF LIS
If one turns to a dictionary to find a definition of the Hawaiian term ohana, the most basic description refers to a tradition of extended family units. However, the lived reality of the ohana principle in the islands encompasses a wide range of interpersonal and social connections that allows for a wonderfully flexible and encompassing notion of what constitutes family-blood relations, adopted family status, intentional social groups, and a variety of spiritual networks as well. When people refer to 'my ohana,' they may mean any of a number of relational contexts in their lives. Why is this significant? In many Western communities, the use of the term family has tended to remain rather restricted to the realm of immediate relatives and those linked to them by bonds of marriage. As a result, it can become more difficult to recognize a wider significance to the world, which can reinforce a sense of us and them, rather than a complex unity that can grow and adapt.
In Luke's gospel, we find an extended series of events in which the disciples are struggling to discern the nature of their power and authority, and they propose to use that power to restrict or punish others. Jesus is very emphatic in saying that "Whoever is not against you is for you." He did not want the gospel to become a matter of who's in charge, leading to division and competition at the heart of Christian community. Unfortunately, history has tended to dull that admonition, as witnessed by the sectarian conflicts and inter-religious disputes that have marred our lives as disciples. Jesus' prayer in John's gospel, "that they may be one," was certainly not intended to initiate a select religious club or private spiritual coterie. Although he never spent a vacation in Kauai or Maui, his inclusive view of life certainly paralleled the world of ohana in a gracious and healing way!
During my all-too-brief times of working in Hawaii, I have come to appreciate the profoundly unitive possibilities of life in an ohana. In the upcoming weeks of Lent, as we reflect on how Jesus loved and died to manifest an all-encompassing love that did not distinguish between 'gentile or jew, slave or free,' we might ponder what it means to expand our own boundaries of spiritual hospitality, to embrace the 'other' with greater reverence. That would certainly be a healing gesture worthy of the family of God.
BY BR. CHARLES JACKSON, S.J.
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF LIS
"Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, 'Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.' He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, 'This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.' Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant." (Mark 9:2-10)
During the course of his public ministry, Jesus proclaimed the kingdom and was acclaimed as a great prophet. Yet along the way he also encountered closed minds and hearts, and then outright persecution, and it soon became clear to him where all of this was leading. One day, as he and his disciples were on their way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, immediately after having heard Peter's great testimony of faith that Jesus was the Christ, he told his disciples that he must suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, but after three days he would rise. But as he spoke these words it was clear to him that his disciples could understand nothing of this.
Several days later, Jesus took Peter, James and John, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And there he was transfigured before them and revealed in all his glory. His garments radiated with the refulgence of the eternal light that was shining in him and through him. Elijah and Moses then appeared and were conversing with him. Finally a cloud appeared, casting a shadow over the disciples, and from within the cloud they heard a voice: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him."
The transfiguration, so reminiscent of the theophanies experienced by Moses and Elijah on the mountain of God, was a profound and even overwhelming experience of God. Moreover, the words uttered by the divine voice were reminiscent of the words which Jesus heard at the Jordan. Yet there was an important difference: the words were addressed, not to Jesus, as they had been at the Jordan: "You are my beloved Son" - but rather to the disciples: "This is my beloved Son." In fact, if we look closely at this passage, it is clear that the transfiguration in its entirety was meant, not for Jesus, but for the disciples - and, from this perspective, for us as well.
As the disciples gazed at the transfigured Jesus, they saw Moses, the law-giver, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, conversing with him. The disciples were thus brought to understand that Jesus followed in their great lineage. Yet the divine voice made clear that Jesus was far greater than they. "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him," the voice told them. Like all faithful Jews, the disciples revered Moses and Elijah, yet they were brought to understand that Jesus was far greater than they. Jesus would soon turn south toward Jerusalem, where he would be arrested, tortured, condemned to death, and killed. The faith of the disciples would soon be sorely tried. Yet in this profound experience God had brought them to understand that Jesus was utterly beyond all that the world could do - and in this God is speaking to us as well - and that in spite of all the anxiety and fear they might experience, they should never lose heart or faith in Jesus. "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." It seems that we can almost hear the echo of the words God so often spoke to the doubting prophets and Jesus so often spoke to his doubting disciples - and who speaks to us today as we continue our Lenten journey - "Fear not! I am with you!"
Searching for the Promise of Easter
BY FR. DAVID C. ROBINSON, S.J.
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF LIS
As the season of Lent draws to a close, we carry within us the yearnings we feel for God, perhaps honed to a finer edge by a heightened time of personal prayer and reflection. We are asked to recognize our amazingly human capacity to see the path to our spiritual fulfillment and then to turn aside to indulge in some ultimately insignificant distraction. At times it might seem that our end-point of the season is Good Friday-the cross that bears our failures. However, we know well that crucifixion is not the destination of our journeying. Easter is the goal toward which we strive with longing. If our Lenten pilgrimage is intended to last some forty days, our Easter celebration stretches for fifty! Nonetheless, we sometimes need to be reminded that we are indeed a 'resurrection people,' a family united in the promise of life, not of failure and death.
In 1875, a group of five Franciscan nuns, exiled from Germany by the religiously restrictive Falk Laws, were headed to England aboard the Deutschland and ran aground at the mouth of the Thames River. For over thirty hours, the vessel was pounded by stormy seas, yet there was no immediate rescue effort put in motion. The ship was gradually shattered by the elements, and many people drowned, including the nuns who remained in prayerful support of one another and their companions as death came for them. The incident deeply impacted the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who responded with a profoundly existential cry of the soul, titled "The Wreck of the Deutschland." In this lengthy poem, he struggles with the violence of nature and the seeming silence of God in the presence of such heart-rending anguish. He asks, as we all do, 'Why, Lord?'
As with all great literary cries in the face of suffering, the poet does not receive a rationale for disaster. Instead, Hopkins discovers in the faithfulness of the nuns to their trust in God's promise a beacon of hope in ultimate victory over death. He offers the prayer of all who come with trust to the portal of Easter-"Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us." Like the sisters united in the face of destruction, we are invited to let God 'easter' in the uncertainties of our own storms, or the foundering of our own dreams on the shoals of circumstance. As Hopkins does, even if we struggle to grasp a vision of where our Easter fullness lies, we can recognize in the faithful lives around us the seed of God's presence, God's abiding life within. This is our Easter promise enfleshed.
Jesus knew in his life of ministry that the victory of God was not a social or political triumph, but rather the eastering of life in a world that is all-too-often difficult to comprehend or appreciate. The cross was not simply a painful detour on the way to a greater prize, but rather the threshold of the human path to a home in God. As this great truth of Spirit easters in us, we can indeed find ample reason to celebrate the coming season, for fifty days and beyond, because we celebrate the realization of a promise that will be kept.