‘Lord, please send someone’: Zacchaeus’ story

Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ

“Anyone” is a song by American singer Demi Lovato, an artist who has struggled for a long time with addiction and depression. The song was recorded in 2018, just four days before a near-fatal drug overdose. Once recovered, she chose to sing this song at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards on January 26, 2020, her first performance since the overdose.

The lyrics of the song first describe her solitude and desperation: “I tried to talk to my piano/I tried to talk to my guitar/Talked to my imagination/Confided into alcohol/Told secrets ’til my voice was sore/Tired of empty conversation/’Cause no one hears me anymore […] Nobody’s listening to me/I feel stupid when I pray/So, why am I praying anyway?/If nobody’s listening…”

But then, out of so much desperation, the song concludes with one heart-breaking prayer, a cry for help: “Anyone, please send me anyone/ Lord, is there anyone? / I need someone…I need someone…”

I think we all have this cry within our heart. We all need a “someone” who can understand the fragility and the solitude that lie beneath a superficial positive appearance, a “someone” who can stay at our side when we struggle. And we need this “someone” to be a real person, not just the product of our imagination, as Demi Lovato well expresses it. Even a vague God, relegated to some abstract ideas or complicated moralism would be useless in addressing such a depth of desperation.

I imagine that Zacchaeus, this tough chief tax collector, had the same need and the same prayer within his heart. We will hear his story in this Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 19:1-13). Apparently, Zacchaeus had power and money enough to enjoy life. In reality, he may have felt an emptiness inside which nothing and nobody could fill, not even the pious religious people who judged him as an unredeemable impure sinner. But that day, in spite of his status, he was not ashamed to climb a sycamore tree just to get a glimpse of Jesus. Maybe the same prayer erupted in his heart: “Anyone, please send me anyone/Lord, is there anyone?/I need someone.” That “someone” was indeed Jesus.

One gaze was enough for Jesus to see clearly into Zacchaeus’ heart and hear his prayer, and for Zacchaeus to joyfully accept Jesus’ invitation: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” He felt that Jesus, unlike other people, saw well beyond his sins and mistakes, and his new self could finally emerge. A different future was then possible.

We know the rest of the story. Jesus did not even need to reprimand him or to warn him about the need to make amends for his sins. Zacchaeus himself, touched by God’s mercy, became a merciful person: “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Jesus concluded: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”

It is a touching story of a person transformed by Jesus, a person who finally finds God’s Grace and his true self. Then, a new life is truly possible.

But if this Gospel remains only a story of the past, then it would not be so helpful in addressing our own cry of loneliness and desperation. Like Zacchaeus, we too need “today” to encounter a “someone”, flesh and blood, who will look at us with the same loving gaze of Jesus, which encompasses all our pain and opens up our future.

That is why Jesus continues to encounter the men and women of every age through the Church, His Body, made of concrete people like me and you who, like Zacchaeus, sometimes in our lives have experienced the transformative power of God’s mercy, because “someone” looked at us and embraced us with the same merciful attitude of Jesus. It might be a family member, a teacher, a friend, a co-worker, a doctor or simply a fellow Christian in the right place and at the right time. Our heart recognized Jesus in them. If I look back at my life, I know that these “someones” literarily saved me from becoming lost.

Christianity is not only the memory of long-gone past events, or the verbal repetition of some doctrines. It is the possibility, given to me and to all, to experience Christ’s presence here and now, in our present circumstances – no matter how tragic they might be – through the human words, actions and choices of His witnesses.

I know the Church is made of very human and very sinful people like me and like Zacchaeus. But keep your eyes open. Jesus might come to encounter you today, through “someone.” Do not stop believing it. And who knows? Today you might even be the “someone” through whom a desperate brother or sister will experience God’s mercy. Believe this too!

(Image: littleman227@pixabay.com)