Will we recognize Jesus in our midst?

The Gospel story of Zacchaeus has few details but it is tantalizing.

Jesus is passing through Jericho. We are told this without any context as to why He is there or whether He intended to stop. Then, we read that Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus. Again, no reason is given. Is his desire to get a glimpse of Jesus a simple curiosity? Or is Zacchaeus searching for something meaningful or profound?

The story explains that Zacchaeus is small in stature. There is no way he can see Jesus with the crowd that has gathered. But Zacchaeus is creative. He climbs a tree and, we could say, he has the best view in the house – or the street.

In much the same way we can ask: Is Jesus passing through our lives? Do we recognize Him in the myriad of faces we see every day? Do we recognize His importance to our lives the way Zacchaeus did to his?

Do we allow ourselves to be small and petty and let ourselves be crowded out by our daily tasks and concerns? Or do we go out of our way to see Him?

Jesus constantly passes through our lives. He arrives every day in one way or another. He will certainly enter our lives today. Where are we expecting him? In what person? In what place? In what experience? More importantly, are we ready to meet him in any experience?

But back to the story: Jesus responds to Zacchaeus’s longing for the spark of the Divinity in his life by stopping and declaring that He would have dinner with him in his house that evening.

Wow! What a treat!

But the crowd is shocked. They ask Jesus if He is not aware that Zacchaeus is a tax collector and a renowned sinner.

Recognizing God’s call to him, Zacchaeus declares, “half of my possessions I will give to the poor; and if I find I have taken more than I should, I will pay back fourfold.”

It is a radical conversion. God’s love has washed over him and he is a new person.

Jesus’s role in this narrative is actually brief but decisive. This is a story about Zacchaeus, a person who admitted his limitations, both in physical stature and in spirit, but understood the wonderfulness of the Divinity in his midst. He sought a way to overcome those limitations, reached out, and was overwhelmed by God’s love.

This is also our story: we, too, can encounter God in our own crowded lives.