While our media thrives on scandals it also gives us inspiring stories about integrity. Such is the case of Allen, a 12 year-old boy. He was a slow learner and had no time for sports as his teachers labored to help him overcome his disability. But Allen wanted to play Pop Warner football. At first his father was against it, but then decided to let him try.
The experienced boys pummeled him, but Allen was unfazed. His father would ask him, “How did things go today?”
Never giving in, Allen would say, “Great! I learned how to block today.” The team had to cut to 35 players. The coach called Allen’s Father and said he would be willing to let Allen dress for games, but not play. Allen decided to stick with the team on those terms.
The 35 played well and were unbeaten entering the last game. The coach decided to let Allen play. After the team prayer, he announced that Allen would be in the game and would be captain. His teammates pounded him with congratulations. They won the game. For the first time the team was awarded the ball. “Who gets the ball?” Thirty-four boys shouted with one voice, “Allen! He never gave up. He is the one who made us a team”
Perhaps little Allen can serve as an image of little Zacchhaeus, the central figure of today’s Gospel. He abides in the Gospels as a charming, even humorous figure. He is the scrappy little guy who climbs a sycamore tree to see Christ. It is not hard to imagine that this little fellow had a hard time of it in his early days. Perhaps his small size motivated him to be ambitious against the odds that assailed him in his youth. As a tax collector for the hated Romans, he would be disliked by his Jewish brothers and sisters. To them he was siding with the enemy and, worse yet, using their money to support the oppressors. But there was goodness in this man. He felt a yearning for Christ. His ambition was made of sterner stuff than mere profit. Jesus recognized this. While adoring crowds craved attention from Jesus, little Zacchaeus gazed humbly on Jesus from the branch of a sycamore tree.
Jesus looked beyond the celebrity seekers and chose a humble man for his love and friendship. He found a good person and wanted everyone to know it. The people sneered,
“Jesus has gone to the home of a sinner.” So be it. Jesus brought his love to a man who was open to spiritual integrity. Zacchaeus converted and gave half his belongings to the poor.
Again and again Jesus canonizes the humble and poor of this world. He is not blinded by popular prejudice. He knows when he sees it. Well, little fellow or little lady, you can have the best of all.
Norbertine Fr. McBride is a popular lecturer and author of more than 40 books.