I left my outer robe at the bottom of the sycamore and climbed into its branches. I had heard Jesus was coming this way and wanted to see what a good person looked like. Up in the tree with my bare limbs exposed, enemies took advantage of my vulnerability and threw stones at me.
Jesus saw this and came running. “Stop! Stop!” he yelled. One by one my accusers dropped their stones as Jesus put one hand on the trunk of the tree and held the other out to me. “Esther, come down.”
When I prayed with this story of Zacchaeus on my eight-day retreat, the picture of Jesus coming to my aid moved me to tears. It still does.
At the beginning of the retreat, God’s loving whispers in the psalms gently washed over me. Wave after wave glistened the surface of my heart like rocks on a beach. Finally my heart cracked open, and love saturated my soul. In the prayer periods that followed, Jesus told me that he never tires of being with me, and I rested, like the beloved disciple, with my head on his chest.
But when I returned to pray with this story of Zacchaeus, I felt drawn to the tree. Once again I shed my thick cloak and climbed back up where I would feel all that life pummelled at me. I stood on a branch and looked for Jesus in the crowd below, but he wasn’t there. Instead he was in the tree behind me. He put his hand over mine.
Someone shouted from below, “If the Lord likes you, why doesn’t he help you?” Similar words had been hurled at Jesus on another tree.
The only way down from this cross was to take up my cloak, harden my heart, and walk away from Jesus. That thought brought tears to my eyes.
“You’re a good person,” Jesus said to me.
His words puzzled me. Here, up in the tree, there’s no hiding all that I am from God or anyone else. There’s no protecting myself from joy or sorrow: the fear that one will leave and the other won’t. Here, in this place with his hand over mine, Jesus called me good.
I sat down on the branch and leaned back into his goodness. I leaned into this good God who welcomes all my joys and sorrows.
May the shelter I seek
be the shadow of your cross.
—Soul of Christ Prayer
by David Fleming, SJ
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“I woke early on July 1st. I was so excited to go to work,” writes my friend Theresa. “I had flags, a six-foot banner, pinwheels, and head bands with tassels and Canadian flags on them–all to decorate the pie shop with. I had told everyone at work we were going to celebrate Canada’s birthday. I wanted everyone at work to enjoy the day and, in turn, make sure every customer left happier than when they came in. That was my plan of love mischief for the day.
“Well. . . I missed my bus. So now I had to go the long way into work through downtown Vancouver and get on the Granville station escalator that scares me, because I know it’s going to shred me to death one day. But when I rode the escalator, I was thinking so much about my plans, that I was off the escalator before I had a chance to feel afraid.
“As I walked up the block to my bus connection, I saw a man sleeping on the sidewalk. He had an empty paper cup by his head. I noticed a bit of change, some candy wrappers and other garbage beside him. I then noticed his feet sticking out from under his thin blanket. His socks were wet and had holes in them. I don’t give to pan-handlers. I was one once, and I know the money rarely goes to food. But I couldn’t walk past him. I put some change in his cup but wouldn’t let go of the loonies I needed for my laundry.
“As I waited at the bus stop, I felt selfish for only leaving nickels and dimes. My heart/God said, ‘Give more, give more, give more.’ So I walked back across the street and bent down to put a five dollar bill in his cup, being careful not to disturb him. But I was concerned that the minute I turned my back someone would steal it from him. So I slipped it under the sweater that was his pillow without waking him.
“I got to work forty minutes later than planned, and faced many challenges (the first being my walk-in cooler going down resulting in the need to call a repair man on a stat holiday and other things too boring to mention). But every time these challenges were about to bring me down, I thought about the man on the sidewalk. I imagined him rising to more money in his cup than when he went to sleep and THEN finding five dollars under his sweater on Canada Day and being even happier than when he first woke up. And I smiled, for God is a way better planner than I am.”