One of the unique gospel stories is that of the tax collector called Zacchaeus, a short guy who became intrigued by Jesus. When Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was coming to Jericho, he climbed a tree to get a better look. Jesus seemed to be looking for Zacchaeus at the same time as Zacchaeus was looking for him.
Jesus’ opening to their conversation was to say, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” No doubt Zacchaeus had a nice home for his day as he had a profitable business. Jesus wanted to meet Zacchaeus on his own turf, where he is most comfortable. A home is the most critical element in developing someone’s sense of security and safety. It doesn’t matter whether it is a hut in Cameroon, a fishing shack at the edge of the Atlantic or a tenement apartment in a large city.
Every person has a deep inner need for a place to call home, a place to go to at the end of a day. Children who grow up in shelters live with an abiding sense of loss and insecurity. It has been proven time and time again that even children who’ve been separated from their parents eventually go back to their original home rather than move around in the foster parent cycle.
Refugee families who are constantly on the move become interiorly, as well as exteriorly, homeless. They lose a sense of belonging to a certain place and a certain group. They lose a sense of meaning in life. In 2021, there were 89.3 million refugees in the world. The number is almost too overwhelming to face, yet face it we must. The causes of the refugee situation are myriad: climate change which causes flooding, droughts and destructive storms, wars and political upheavals, poverty and lack of available housing.
There is no one who is exempt from doing something about homelessness, locally or globally. If Jesus met Zacchaeus in his own home, how much must he want to be able to meet every man, woman or child in their own home. Of course, Jesus, himself a refugee as a young child, will go wherever anyone is, whether it is a grate over a subway or a mansion. Jesus is present wherever someone needs him or invites him.
A group of 11- and 12-year-old students were on the floor of a classroom writing things for which they were grateful on a large pumpkin. Their words were mature for their ages – family, a home, life, God. The same group of children had just made more than 300 sandwiches for the poor and went to the drop-in center to deliver them. Perhaps that experience influenced their words on the pumpkin. The suffering of others led them to reflection on their own gifts. One little eight-year-old heard a crippled homeless man say that some people won’t even look at him or talk to him. The young boy was indignant that others were so cruel. Our children can learn in their own way to care for others, especially the homeless.
At this time of Thanksgiving, these children can bring us to the table of plenty in our own homes and lead us to hearts converted to the way of Jesus, just as Zacchaeus was converted by the presence of Jesus in his own home. Zacchaeus listened to Jesus, fell in love with Jesus and changed his life, not out of guilt but out of love.
Jesus still calls and invites and stays with us in our own homes. Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus gladly into his home. Let us make him welcome and listen to him in the same way.
Sister Patricia McCarthy currently teaches Math at a Catholic School. For many years she taught troubled children and victims of abuse.