First Reading: Ws 11:22-12:2; Psalm: 145. R. v. 1; Second Reading: 2Thes 1:11-2:2; Gospel: Lk 19:1-10
THE SYCAMORE TREE
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
On Saturday, the 1st of October 2022, during the Independence Day mega rally in Nigeria for the presidential flag bearer of the Labour Party Mr. Peter Obi, a toddler Chioma Success was spotted walking along with the crowd. Only a few people noticed her because she was hidden in the midst of the crowd due to her small stature. Suddenly, a young man behind her instinctively lifted her up to the sight of everyone. Chioma’s face lit up immediately as she bobbed in excitement waving the Labour Party flag in the lifted hands of her bearer. In a matter of minutes, her video went viral and won her many fans who were inspired by her enthusiasm for a better Nigeria and who offered her scholarship and provided financial support to her single mother for her upkeep.
That day, fortune smiled on little Chioma Success and changed her story for good. But what many people failed to recognise was the hand that lifted her up. Sometimes what we need in life to be successful and fulfilled is just a little push; just a hand to lift us up.
Zacchaeus was a man of small stature but very successful. The gospel of today identified him as a rich chief tax collector. However, he was apparently not a happy and fulfilled man. Tax collectors were hated by their fellow Jews because of their alliance with the Romans to rob their own people through tax collection. So Zacchaeus faced alienation from his own people. He most probably had heard so much about Jesus and was expectant to see him some day.
On this very day, Jesus happened to be passing through Jericho; apparently by Zacchaeus’ tax office. We can imagine Zacchaeus saying within himself “Aha! This is the moment.” All he wanted was just to see who this Jesus was. But he couldn’t because he was short. It’s very likely that he even tried to force his way through the crowd but was happily jostled by his own people who were waiting for opportunities like this get even with him. He was helpless. But suddenly he realised there was a sycamore tree ahead of them. He ran on ahead, climbed up onto it and waited for Jesus to pass by that he might catch a glimpse of him. When Jesus eventually saw him, that moment became a turning point in Zacchaeus’ life.
A sycamore tree as insignificant as it might seem to some people played a very vital role in this life changing experience of Zacchaeus. If that tree wasn’t there at that moment; if there were no other alternative means to make Zacchaeus visible, maybe he wouldn’t have seen Jesus. And here is the turning point of the whole story. Because this story was not really about Zacchaeus seeing Jesus. It was about Jesus seeing Zacchaeus. For when Jesus stopped, looked up and saw Zacchaeus, everything changed. From that point, Jesus took over.
Recall that the sole aim of Zacchaeus’ effort was just to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Thanks to the sycamore tree that made this dream possible. But Jesus took it up from there and led Zacchaeus to a new storyline that was never in his blueprint. Jesus said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” At this point, Jesus suspended his journey and the accompanying crowd also had to wait because this moment was Zacchaeus’ moment. When God starts with us, he will not stop until we are well. We know the rest of Zacchaeus’ story. He became a changed man and promised to return fourfold of all he had defrauded. Indeed, salvation visited him.
Every success story begins with a push, encouragement, support or inspiration from us or from someone apart from us. God created us for each other; to support one another. There is always a point of one’s beginning to success. Often times we may not be able to reach that point ourselves due to some circumstances beyond our control. And unless someone out there in a better position pushes or helps us to that point, we may not get there.
Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (Pope John XIII), popularly known as the “Good Pope” and the “Pope of Peace” was the third child of the thirteen children of his parents who were poor tenant farmers in a small village in Italy. He desired to become priest as a little boy but his parents could not afford the financial demands of seminary training. At age 12, Roncalli finally started his journey to the priesthood, a feat he attributed to his uncle and Godfather Zaverio. Roncalli noted, that were it not for his uncle Zaverio, his dream to the priesthood wouldn’t have materialised. This little boy from a small poor village in Italy would later become Pope; the Pope that convoked the most inclusive and transformative Church Council in the Church’s history – The Vatican II Council.
The hand that raised Chioma Success at that Independence Day mega rally in Nigeria was Chioma’s sycamore tree. Zaverio, Roncalli’s uncle and Godfather was his little nephew’s sycamore tree. Zacchaeus’ opportunity to see Jesus and his repentance thereafter may not have happened were it not for the sycamore tree. The point is; our world is in need of more sycamore trees.
God wishes to bless many of us and all we need to attain these blessings is some little effort and support from each other. The simple reason God created us is to be there for one another in charity and love. Our life is only worthwhile when it betters the life of others. All we need to do is just to play our part while we leave the rest to God. Certainly, God is the main executor of every success story. But God needs us to play our part so he can take it up from there. Are we leaving up to this expectation?
Unfortunately, we live in a world of unhealthy competition, insecurity and fear. A world where we feel that helping others puts us at risk or might make them better than us. A world where we feel threatened by the gifts and talents of one another. This also happens even in the priesthood and religious life. Where we sometimes forget our goal to build and begin to act based on prejudice and personal sentiments. In life, we can only grow by helping others to grow.
Some of us perhaps are already fatigued helping someone especially when our help is yielding no result. There are parents who may have tried severally to establish their children in doing something productive and meaningful yet time and again it proves futile. Maybe we need to push a little more. Maybe our son or daughter is at that point where they need to climb a little higher to see the way and means to their successes. If we give up easily, they may not get there.
We can be more supportive in our work places too. We can become sycamore trees to our co-workers when we correct rather than criticise. When we speak the truth rather than give false accusations. When we encourage instead of cast aspersion. When we co-learn instead of competing. As sycamore trees, we are meant to elevate people and not to pull them down. This is what God wants from us; to always support one another so that we may grow to become better.
God wants to bless someone today. We may have a role to play to make this happen. It is not that God depends on us to bless someone. God rather uses us to bless people. So when we respond to God’s grace at work in us, we become sycamore trees lifting others up to where God wants them to be.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, help us to build rather than destroy; to lift up rather than pull down. Amen.