Prepare for Sunday Mass: Why did Zacchaeus wish to see Jesus? Each week in OSV Newsweekly, Carl Olson provides a thoughtful, relevant reflection on the Mass readings for Sunday in his "Opening the Word" column. The following is just an excerpt, but you can read the entire column here.

From Carl Olson:

As a young boy, one of my favorite books was a picture book of the story of Zacchaeus, the short man who climbed a tree in order to see Jesus. And what did I learn from that humorous book? That Zacchaeus was a short man who climbed a tree to see Jesus! There is, of course, much more to Zacchaeus and his story than just a tax collector who was "short in stature."

Why did Zacchaeus wish to see Jesus? Luke states that the chief tax collector "was seeking to see who Jesus was," which leaves the door open for various motives. Perhaps Zacchaeus had heard about the miracles of Jesus, or of Jesus' teachings, or both. Or maybe Zacchaeus actually knew little about Jesus, but the crowds and commotion surrounding Jesus caught his attention? St. Augustine saw in Zacchaeus a man driven by humility and saw the crowds as purposefully hampering him from seeing Jesus. "The crowd laughs at the lowly, to people walking the way of humility, who leave the wrongs they suffer in God’s hands and do not insist on getting back at their enemies," he wrote. "Let Zacchaeus grasp the sycamore tree, and let the humble person climb the cross."

Blessed John Paul II, in a 2002 letter to priests, wrote that "Zacchaeus seems prompted by curiosity alone. … Zacchaeus had no idea that the curiosity which had prompted him to do such an unusual thing was already the fruit of a mercy which had preceded him, attracted him and was about to change him in the depths of his heart." The exact motives of Zacchaeus are unclear, I think, because the merciful grace of God is a mysterious and powerful force, and explaining why we decide to gaze squarely upon Jesus is not always possible, except by recognizing God's love for what it is: a gift beyond our full comprehension. The key here is that the desire to see who Jesus is is central to everything else that follows: encounter, forgiveness, communion.

Read Olson's entire column to prepare for Sunday Mass.

Jennifer Rey is the web editor of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing.