Every day I read the daily Scripture readings. All too often, though, I skim over them thinking, “Okay, I know how this one ends”. But when I choose to engage in the reading, it becomes something lively. It has the ability to transform and renew me every day.

The most powerful experience I’ve had when reading the Bible is not only applying it to my life, but actually placing myself in the shoes of a character. This happened when I was reading the story about Zacchaeus being called down from the tree by Jesus. It was as though the image of this tax collector sitting in the bow of a sycamore froze in time as a piece of installation art. Like all other stories of the Bible – it is something didactic, something to study and something to be experienced. I could see the picture, study the movements and interactions; noticing the theme of mercy. It was then that I realised I am Zacchaeus.

At a glance, I wouldn’t have identified with the short, tax-collector man because I am none of these things. But I am told that he is greedy and rich – and I can be, at times, some of those things. I am richly blessed even when I fail to notice it. A roof over my head, loved ones who care for me are just a few. So why does ingratitude sometimes get to me as I long for more?

To the amazement of the crowd, this unpopular and infamously corrupt man seems to be instantly changed. He becomes generous:

“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”

Who would be so foolish as to give so much away? The answer is someone who has been changed – changed by the loving gaze of Jesus.

It was as simple as that. Zacchaeus had an intimate encounter with Christ – something that even the ‘righteous’ lacked. The “sinner” knew that he was uniquely loved, known and chosen. Jesus wanted to come over to his house and this changed him.

When in your life have you experienced mercy? When did forgiveness set you free?

Pope Francis has named the next liturgical year in the Church calendar as ‘the year of mercy’. This means that we have an invitation to especially focus on being people of mercy.

While reflecting further, I felt that this story of the sinner in the sycamore epitomises the mission of the Church. Pope Francis says that the Church is sick when it focuses inwards instead of being open to others with outstretched arms. This is true as well for our vocational calling. Marriage, religious life and single life is to be lived out as a gift for others.  The tree is a perch for Zacchaeus to see Jesus, and once this happens, he is transformed and becomes no longer self-centred, but other-centred.

The tree can represent something of comfort. The tax-collector can easily hide himself behind its leaves and keep himself at a distance from God and from the crowd, avoiding being recognised and truly seen.

God calls each of us out of our comfortable perch and to have a Zacchaeus moment, daily, by firstly opening our heart to Christ’s mercy because of our imperfections, but then to go out and reflect God’s love.

For many, mercy might seem like an idealistic concept. Perhaps you can list a few people and hurtful situations where it seems incredibly difficult to show forgiveness and compassion. Where there is an inhumane act of violence, it seems especially justifiable to dish out punishment. But here is an example of how a God-given heart of mercy can equip us to do the impossible:

Maria Goretti, a 12 year old Italian girl, prayed for the man who stabbed her repeatedly after she refused his sexual advances. On her deathbed, she prayed that he would be spared from not only institutional repercussions, but that God would forgive him and that they would meet in heaven.

St. Maria’s response is unimaginable. Perhaps she was able to exercise this huge act of mercy because she had practised first in daily life.

Mercy needs to be the flavour of our everyday transactions. The way we talk to and about others, the way we forgive and the way we give. It doesn’t mean being a push-over. It just means noticing the humanity in someone else as something equal to your own.

To whom can you show mercy today?

How might Christ want to transform you?

Perhaps there is an invitation to be gentler towards someone. Or risk giving to someone, well aware that it might go unnoticed. Perhaps it is simply to let God enter into an unforgiving place.

So who are you in the story? Up in the tree, waiting to be found, waiting to be changed? Or Jesus – administering mercy to another? We need to be both – constantly changed, and constantly ready to give everything up for the sake of love.

If you find this challenging, simply take some time today to receive Christ’s mercy. Let it melt the hardness of your heart, let it cover your past and let it set you forth into freedom to love.


About the AuthorProfile from Caryn

Caryn Tennant

My inspirations are the smell of croissants, Pope Francis and café interiors. I have had too many hometowns, but currently I’m living in Cape Town where I finished my BA degree and am now teaching English at a high school. My bucket list includes studying theology, speaking Spanish in Spain, and running a half marathon.