I recently read about a story where some Christians went to a big New Age, psychic festival in order to offer prayer ministry for anyone there who might be interested. It was one of the biggest festivals of its kind, with row after row of booths selling all sorts of occult merchandise and “services” — crystals, palm-readings, herbs and other materials used in various forms of witchcraft — all things that we should never play around with or open ourselves up to in any way because they can invite demonic activity into our lives.
But these Christians came to this festival for a very specific and holy purpose: To offer prayers for anyone who was willing to be prayed with.
At some point, a woman approached their booth with a huge pentagram on her chest, and announced proudly and defiantly:
“I’m a witch!”
The Christian only smiled and replied calmly: “Ok…Would you like for me to pray for you?”
She looked back confused, and with an eyebrow raised said: “But…I said that I’m a witch!”
“I’d still love to pray for you!” he responded, undaunted.
The look on her face then shifted, and with visible confusion asked: “Aren’t you afraid of me?”
The Christian smiled again and simply said: “No! In fact, I love to pray for witches. I’ve been asking the Lord to send some witches my way for me to pray for them…”
Amazingly, the woman allowed him to pray over her: “Father, love her. Lavish Your love over her. Show her the reality of how much you love her!”
He then got the sense that this woman needed prayers specifically for healing in her back, and he asked if he could pray for that. She agreed. To her shock, something started to happen, and by the end of the prayer, her back pain was totally relieved. She looked at the man in disbelief:
“But… I’m a witch! Why would God want to heal a witch?”
He only replied: “God doesn’t see you as a witch. He sees you as someone He loves very much. And He wants you to have a relationship with Him.”
At that, she suddenly exclaimed: “I gotta get out of here… I need to leave right now. This is a bad place.” And she left the psychic festival right then and there, leaving her booth of crystals and pentagrams unattended and abandoned…
I share this story about witches, not because it’s Halloween weekend — but in order to illustrate a simple point:
Jesus does not avoid people because of their sins.
In fact, quite the contrary, he seems to be magnetized to public sinners and people in less than perfect situations. He runs straight toward them, even if they try to disqualify themselves or avoid Him!
We saw this in action in our Gospel today.
Zaccheus was a public sinner. He was one of those dreaded tax-collectors! A scumbag! Everyone knew of his shady dealings with the Romans, the way he always cheated people out of their money!
And so they avoided him like the plague… They looked down on him — and not just because he was short!
No… they thought they were better than him, and so they kept their distance. They wanted nothing to do with him!
But in comes Jesus…and he chooses to treat Zaccheus totally differently.
He looks up in that tree that Zaccheus climbed — and he looks him right in the eye saying: “Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
Zaccheus could have responded like that witch did: “But… I’m a tax collector! Aren’t you afraid of me? Aren’t you disgusted by my very presence? Won’t my sinfulness somehow infect you? Why would you want to eat with a tax collector?”
That was exactly what the crowd was thinking, right?
We hear that they began to GRUMBLE. They were shocked! They were jealous, even! “How dare Jesus eat with HIM? Doesn’t he know that you’re supposed to AVOID people like that rotten Zaccheus???”
But Jesus doesn’t care. “Come down quickly!” he says.
It’s as if Jesus is telling this wayward son: “Zaccheus, I’m here for you, too. You may have climbed this tree just to catch a glimpse of me from afar… you wanted to keep a safe distance… you wanted to take the back row pew…you wanted to lay low… but I want you to have an up-close-and-personal encounter! I want you to KNOW me… deeply and intimately. I want to lavish my love upon you!”
Somehow Jesus is able to cut straight through all the scandal, all the judgment and condemnation — in order to give Zaccheus a chance to repent… to change his ways for good.
It’s like what we heard in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom:
“Lord, you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.”
Did you catch that?
God overlooks our sins, not so we can go on sinning, but that we might repent!
And boy does Zaccheus repent!
“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.”
Zaccheus snatches at this chance to change his direction in life, to turn away from his sin, and Jesus ratifies his repentance: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
Jesus does not avoid people because of their sins!
But what about us?
Do we have the same mindset of Jesus?
Do we treat public sinners the way He did? Are we magnetized to them? Or do we avoid them instead? Are we running away from the people that Jesus is running towards?
This is not about excusing people of their wrongdoing….This has nothing to do with affirming actions and beliefs that we should not agree with or celebrate.
Let me be perfectly clear: When it comes to questions surrounding really important topics. Topics like human sexuality — the radiant beauty of marriage as God designed it — the sanctity of life — the image of God imprinted on our bodies as either male or female — the proper conditions for receiving the Most Holy Eucharist — all of these Truths are basic and fundamental to being Catholic.
We believe that the Church is build on rock, not sand. We can’t shift around with every passing puff of wind from the culture! Jesus gave St. Peter the Keys to the Kingdom… and those Keys are solid and even rigid for a reason: They open up the Door to Eternal Life!
But still — we have to constantly be asking ourselves:
Do we as a Church — the Body of Christ — avoid sinners? Would we rather avoid and ignore ‘witches,’ rather than offer to pray with and for them? Are we content to leave them up in their trees?
If so, then we need to repent. We need to turn to Jesus and pray:
“Teach us to have your mindset, Lord! Give us Your Heart for the lost. Help us think like Heaven thinks!”
The famous words of Pope St. John Paul II come to mind here:
“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”
This is SO IMPORTANT for us to remember!
You are NOT defined by your sins! You are NOT defined by your mistakes! You are defined by the love of God.
When we live by THAT truth and THAT identity — then we can finally begin to walk in the freedom and holiness Jesus has won for us. We can repent, leaving our old, self-created identities behind, and embrace who we really are. We can allow ourselves to be truly FOUND by the Savior, who came to seek and save the lost.
So if somewhere in your heart you still think Jesus is avoiding you because of your sin, I want to say yet again:
Jesus will never avoid you!
If you feel invisible — if you look around and think, “Wow, this is such a huge church, I feel lonely, small, unwelcome and unseen,” please know that Jesus sees you up in that tree! He knows your struggle!
He invites you to come down, and if you’ll allow Him, He wants to have dinner with YOU today. He wants to come into the most intimate places of your life, and He wants to empower you to stand up in freedom — to say “no” to evil, and “yes” to Him. He wants to make you worthy! He wants to make you a saint.