By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD
It’s the beginning of a new decade. I like to spend time looking back and reflecting on the many things that transpired. One such event was my first marathon. During the race, the energy of the crowd was contagious. It motivated runners like me to persevere and reach the finish line.
A marathon is much like a faith journey. Both can make us question if we can finish the race. Both can fulfill a heart’s desire. Both are pursued from an inner call and can compel us to leave a beloved homeland (or a beloved couch).
When I decided to enter the Society of the Divine Word, I sought something greater than myself, something that at the time was unclear to me. I was sad to leave family and friends, yet the prospects also filled me with excitement.
Running a marathon is like the race of faith. Faith in Christ gives us the courage to go to unknown places and to be with strangers. On the marathon route, you also find yourself among strangers.
Following a friend’s suggestion, I wore a shirt with my name on it. I was surprised and elated by people who cheered me on, calling my name at the top of their lungs. The name on my chest made the people notice me, an average runner, small in stature, among roughly 45,000 runners. The loud cheer was like an energy drink that helped me finish the race.
Reaching the finish line was exhilarating, much like the way I imagine Zacchaeus felt when Jesus called him by name (Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus’ small stature did not hinder him from seeing and meeting Jesus. As the chief publican, or tax collector, Zacchaeus was a wealthy collaborator of the hated Roman occupiers. He exploited his own people. Because of his ill repute, he hesitated to approach the Master. His effort to see Jesus clearly led him to change his heart and his life.
In one of Pope Francis’s homilies, the pontiff said, “Even today we can risk not getting close to Jesus because we don’t feel big enough, because we don’t think ourselves worthy. This is a great temptation; it has to do not only with self-esteem but with faith itself. For faith tells us that we are “children of God…that is what we are.”
I can relate to Zacchaeus. With a contemplative mind, I followed a path guided by Scriptures in a way that has been spiritually meaningful. During my silent prayer, I heard God cheering me on. God awakened my spirit and lifted me up from brooding caused by past injuries. God’s loving presence opened my heart and motivated me to start over.
In 2020, Christ continues to invite us on the faith journey. Like a marathon, it will not be easy. There will be doubts and confusion, discouragement and disappointments, frustrations and limitations, yet Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus offers us three ways to run the race called the Christian life.
First, when Jesus came to Jericho, passing through the town, Zacchaeus, due to his physical limitation, climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.
Let us persist, strive, and persevere to seek and find Jesus especially when he is passing through our daily lives. Jesus is present in people and events around us. A listening heart is a key to noticing Jesus.
Second, Jesus looked up at the sycamore tree and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5-6). Zacchaeus came down and received him with joy.
Let us deepen our encounters with Jesus by receiving and loving him with joy. The way to receive Jesus and express our love for him is by contemplating the Good News, especially in the sacraments, such as the Eucharist and reconciliation. We can deepen our encounter with Jesus by making a dwelling place in our hearts. Let the Divine Word remain in our hearts.
Third, Zacchaeus 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” (Luke 19:8).
Let us manifest the love we have in our relationship with Jesus through acts of charity. Our relationship with Jesus will only be possible through interconnectedness and interdependence with others through acts of service.
The three responses of Zacchaeus to Jesus are examples for us to imitate. We do not know how the year 2020 will unfold. Let us prepare ourselves to face many questions, doubts and difficulties in our Christian faith lives. Let our hearts remain attentive to the call of Jesus. In other words: to run alone is a race, but to run with God is grace.