I was rushing into the grocery store. I had snacks, drinks and goodies to buy for our young adult gathering at the parish. Per usual, I was running a little bit late and was in a hurry. As I approached the entrance of the grocery store a man came up to me and asked if he could ask me a quick question. Because I was so focused on my task at hand and also because he surprised me a little, I brushed him off: “Sorry man, I’m short on time.”
As I came out of the store twenty minutes later carrying bags of crackers, cheese, and cookies, he was still standing out there. He came up to me again asking for a moment of my time. Because the shopping had gone quicker than I expected I acquiesced. He told me that he needed just a couple of dollars for the bus. I gave what he asked and saw him head on over to the bus stop nearby. While I sat in my car driving to the parish, I considered the fact that this man had been standing outside the grocery store for at least twenty minutes asking for only a couple of dollars – no one had helped him.
Soon after this incident I was reflecting on the Gospel story of Jesus passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. As he is moving through, he sees a man named Zacchaeus—the short head tax collector no less—up in a tree trying to get a glimpse of him. He stops and decides to stay at this man’s house. Zacchaeus is so moved that he changes his ways and volunteers half of his possessions for the poor (Luke 19:1-10).
As I sat with this passage, I could not help imagining Jesus in a hurry on his way up to Jerusalem to prepare for the Passover – his own holiday season. After all, he had plenty to do there! Yet, he stopped. He noticed Zacchaeus in need, affirmed him, and decided to stay in his home.
I recalled the man outside of the grocery store. Was he not the Zacchaeus in front of me, needing a moment of my busy life and a couple of dollars? Have I not been in his shoes before, hoping someone would remind me of my own belovedness and worth? Could I not have asked him how things were going, perhaps offering an additional second of concern and attention? If Jesus had the same mindset I was bringing into the grocery store, he might have passed Zacchaeus right over and this tax collector would have continued his extortive ways.
In our own hyper-scheduled lives, how often do we fail to see the person in need right in front of us? How frequently do we avoid eye contact with the woman asking for money because we don’t have time to stop? It is so easy to get wrapped up in all that we need to do and forget about the face of Christ five feet in front of us.
This is particularly true as we get closer to the holidays. The number of things that need to “get done” mounts as the year ends and we rush into store after store. Yet, just as Jesus did not let his own “holiday season” (and impending trials) distract him from the short man in the tree, we too must continue to be aware of the human needs that are presented to us each day. We must slow down in order to see Zacchaeus in front of us, begging for a counter-cultural affirmation of his own value.