I read an article recently in a religious newspaper. It told of a famous Japanese artist who had contacted Christian missionaries to inquire about a ticket to heaven. He was a very old man who knew that death could not be far away. He had heard that Jesus had tickets to heaven, and he wanted to purchase one.
Some of us would laugh at the old man for wanting to purchase a ticket to heaven. But none of us would laugh at him for wanting to go to heaven. We all want to do that, and we can understand that the missionaries would be pleased that a famous artist had expressed an interest in Christianity. But to think of a relationship with Jesus in terms of a ticket to heaven is another matter. Yet to many people, that is the primary meaning of our Catholic faith.
In the bible Christian faith leads to salvation. There it speaks of deliverance from enemies, of rescue from evil, of having been lost and then being found.
One of my favorite gospels that illustrates this point is the story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of Jericho. Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.” That meant something more than a ticket to heaven. Zacchaeus had needs more immediate and urgent than that. He was lost in a jungle of greed and resentment and could not find his way out. Then Jesus came and led him out.
If we take an honest look at our own lives, we will see that we are often in the same condition. We don’t know where to turn or what to do. We sometimes feel lost. We don’t need a ticket to heaven so much as we need someone to show us the way here and now. And that is exactly the kind of help that is offered to us in Jesus.
Zacchaeus, of course, made an effort to see Jesus. He had run ahead and climbed a tree in order to see above the crowd. But it was Jesus who stopped under the tree, called Zacchaeus by name, and invited Himself to be a guest in his home. In the truest sense, Zacchaeus did not find Jesus; but it was Jesus who found Zacchaeus.
This is good news for all of us when we feel lost – to know that a rescue party is already out there searching for us. And always it is the rescue party that does most of the travelling and makes most of the effort, not the person who is lost.
A tremendous change took place in the life of Zacchaeus. We don’t know everything that occurred between them, but we know the result. There was no doubt that something had changed in Zacchaeus. But we need to keep in mind that Jesus offered His friendship and accepted the friendship of Zacchaeus before that change ever took place.
This is how vital Christian faith always works. God loves us and accepts us just as we are. The only thing we have to do is accept the fact that we are accepted. Then with God as our helper and our friend, we can start to live a new and better life. That is the kind of Catholic faith that every one of us needs and can have, if only we will open our hearts to Him and accept it.