16 November 2010

The Tiny Tax Collector

Today's Gospel affords us both a spiritual and syntactical example.

First things first, the spiritual example is a charming one: a grown man, disliked by his own people because his job as tax collector implied that he colluded with the Roman authorities, climbs a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus. One might not have difficulty imagining a teenager climbing a tree to see a rock star at an outdoor concert; the sight of a grown man scaling a tree with no indication of any concern for the opinions of those around him would surely have been the target of finger-pointing and head-turning.

We, too, should be unselfconscious when we seek the Lord in our daily life. Our quest may not take us up a sycamore tree, but it may take us some places which are equally precarious and similarly uncomfortable. When we encounter someone who treats us unkindly it is often difficult to reach out after we have been rejected or ignored. We may feel like walking in the opposite direction just so as not to have eye contact and risk feeling the discomfort of a cold stare. When we go out of our way to reach out to this distant neighbor, we are seeking out Christ. We, like the first-century tax collector in today's Gospel, sometimes have to behave in ways that will draw more attention that we might have wanted. We should not be surprised to overhear our colleagues say things like, "Why is she talking to him? He's always rude to everyone!" Or, we may fear that people will treat us differently if we begin to reach out to the local crosspatch. Let us not be concerned about how uncomfortable it can be to perch ourselves atop this tree of virtue. Rather, we should be emboldened by the knowledge that when we earnestly seek the Lord, we will see Him and He will come ever closer to us.

Our syntactical example is almost as charming as the image of the sycamore-scaling Zacchaeus and it speaks to the importance of identifying clearly the antecedents we use. The English translation of today's Gospel reads: "Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature." There is no indication in the passage of who "he" was who was short. Was it Jesus or Zacchaeus? English, not being an inflected language, lacks the ability to make this distinction. A cursory check of the Greek text, however, would reveal that the antecedent to the ambiguous "he" is, in fact, the diminutive tax collector. Without the original text to confirm the case of the pronoun, one might be left wondering.

"Blessed is the soul that seeks God alone. For she will find him everywhere and everywhere she will seek what she has found."
St. Jane de Chantal

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