How A Personal Encounter with God can Change Your Life
Wisdom 11:22-12:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2, Luke 19:1-10
Ordinarily, a Personal encounter involves having a one-on-one experience with someone. It involves a meeting with someone .
This is nothing but having a physical encounter with a person, that one can ever live to describe or tell the experience one day. It is only when we come in contact with someone that we can truly talk about the person convincingly.
A Personal encounter with God is a personal experience with God. This one-on-one experience will bring us to a proper understanding of who God is.
You have been hearing about people who criticize and talk negatively about Jesus. These are people who do not have a personal encounter with Him.
Only an encounter with God will change everything we have known negatively about Jesus. It is this encounter that will lead a person into a total yielding or surrendering of himself to the Lord.
This personal encounter can only happen if we desire to always come close to Him. When we encounter God truly, everything about us must surely change.
A personal encounter with God can truly change our lives. This is what happened in today’s gospel between Zacchaeus and Jesus Christ. Immediately Zacchaeus encountered Jesus personally, his life turned around. He became a new person.
The Reason We Need to Encounter God.
When we encounter God, we shall have first-hand knowledge about who He is. It is then we shall know how deep His mercy is.
When we encounter God, we shall be filled with His wisdom, know how He operates, and the bountifulness of His love and mercy.
It is then we will be the people to tell others how God is always willing to help us. The reason many people are still deep in their past lives is that they think God cannot forgive them again.
Also, many people have lost hope in themselves. For some people, there could be no chance of survival again.
Today, many Christians do not go to confession or the sacrament of penance because they do not see any need for that. They already believed that God may not forgive them.
Also, many Christians have lost faith in God, especially in times of great challenges.
When we truly come close to God, we shall see that there is no reason to lose faith in God in times of challenges. Our lives will surely change. Our faith will become so strong even in the face of unanswered prayers.
I remembered when I was a junior seminarian, there was this particular teacher that we feared. Many of us saw him as a very wicked person.
The point is that he was highly disciplined. He demanded a lot from his students. Or I can say that He was highly demanding.
You dare not fail his subject, otherwise, you would be in trouble. You dare not get into any trouble with him. If He catches you making noise in the class, then you are dead already.
So, we feared him a lot. Then, one day one of my friends got in trouble with him. He caught my friend outside the class during teaching hours.
He requested that my friend should wait for his punishment. For a few days, my friend was going down. He knew it would not be easy.
Every day, He kept asking us what He could do. We knew this teacher as a very wicked person. We knew it would be a hard moment for him. My friend was psychologically affected.
After two days, we saw him moving about with the said teacher. He was even holding a bag for him. They were busy discussing.
The teacher later gave him a loaf of bread from the bag. That was how the punishment went. We did not understand what happened, because we were expecting punishment.
It was then, my friend came to us in the hostel and said to us “do you know that this man is not wicked? ” We were surprised because that was not what we wanted to hear.
It was later he told us how he met the teacher after the afternoon prayers, the teacher saw how remorseful he was. The teacher took his time to advise him and gave him a loaf of bread. My friend later told us “if you truly want to know how someone is, go close to the person”.
Also, when we learn how to be close to God, we shall truly come to a knowledge of Him.
The Truth About God.
The first reading explains to us some of the significant truths about God. Knowing these truths about God will help us to long for a heart-to-heart relationship with Him.
When we understand these truths we shall then understand the reason the crowd accused and condemned Zacchaeus today but Jesus did not.
These truths will reveal to us the reason we need to have this sincere desire to have an encounter with God.
These truths will transform the way we see God and help us to desire him always even when we think He is far from us due to our dark living. Among these are:
He Can Do All Things.
The first thing we have to know about God is that He can do all things. The worst mistake that we normally make as human beings is to put limitations on the wondrous things God can do in our lives.
The first reading says that for God, nothing is impossible to Him, the whole world is like a grain of dust that tips the scales. He holds the world in His palms, He can do all things.
Therefore, when we have this personal encounter with God, we shall discover that we are the people who put limitations on God.
God is ever merciful.
One thing you will never miss in God’s presence is His merciful heart. God cannot but be compassionate.
When we encounter Him, we encounter His love and mercy. And He shows His mercy to all, that is the reason, He gives us a lot of chances to renew ourselves again and again.
The reason I am doing this is to let us know who we worship and to bear these things in mind whenever we come to His presence.
He overlooks Our Mistakes.
According to the first reading, God always overlooks our mistakes and weaknesses so that we can repent. He wants us to change from past lives to start living new lives.
When Jesus visited Zacchaeus today, many people thought that Jesus would start condemning Zacchaeus for His mistakes. What God is interested in is that we change from the evil things that we do.
Therefore, we are the people who do run away from God, while He is always longing for us to return.
His love is for all that exists, we belong to Him and that is why He spares us and gives us chances to think back and correct our mistakes.
Therefore, whenever we go to His presence, let us always know that we are approaching the presence of mercy, love and full of grace.
A personal encounter with God will surely transform us if we understand the person we approach and if we trust in His love and mercy to change us into better people.
He Corrects Us.
When David sinned, God punished Him and corrected Him. We need to understand that God always corrects those He loves.
In the first reading, the author says that instead of dealing with us and eliminating us, Little by little, He corrects us when we offend Him. He talks and admonishes us.
He reminds us of our mistakes and how we have sinned, so that we can abstain from evil and trust in Him, above everything.
When God loves you, be ready for His corrections and flogging. Proverbs 3:12 says that God reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. Then Job 5:17, says that blessed is the one whom God reproves and corrects.
Therefore. let us not despise the discipline of the Almighty God. Sometimes to draw us to Himself, God uses some avenues to discipline us and draw us always to Himself. This could be the reason, many of us encounter different forms of challenges and afflictions.
The Man Zacchaeus: A story of a Changing Encounter.
1. In the gospel, Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Jericho is known as an important and prosperous city.
It is well known for its great palm forest and world-famous balsam groves which perfumed the air from miles around.
The City is popularly known as ‘The City of Palms.’ And Zacchaeus is from this city. This explains to us how rich Zacchaeus could be.
Let us not forget that Zacchaeus is not just a tax collector but a Chief tax collector. Therefore, He is in charge. All the money they collect goes to Him.
2. When Zacchaeus met Jesus today, He was willing to overlook all and follow Jesus. When we have a personal encounter with God, there is always the desire not to allow anything again to come in between the relationship.
It is not everybody that can willingly do what Zacchaeus did today. We cannot worship God and worship money at the same time. One must go for the other to stay.
3. The question is “if we are in the position of this man, can we be willing to let go, especially being a chief tax collector in a big city known for its wealth and popularity?
It is impossible. But when we have this personal encounter with God, we shall desire God wholeheartedly.
Zacchaeus, His past and Our Pasts.
The past life of Zacchaeus is full of deception, evil, lies, hypocrisy, extortion, bribery, corruption and falsehood. Tax collectors are hated by the Jews.
These tax collectors make their profits on whatever extra things they can get away from the collection of taxes. Some of these tax collectors make the taxes as high as possible so that they can collect their gains from the leftovers.
We remember in Luke 3:13, When the tax collectors came to John the Baptist and asked how they can get right with God, John the Baptist told them to collect no more than what is appointed for them. So, people know quite well that all the rich tax collectors are like rogues.
So, Zacchaeus is like a rogue, a public sinner, a gripping extortioner, and a money swindler. He enjoys this because he makes a hell of money from it. Hence, when he had an encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus transformed.
In the same way, can we also think about our dirty pasts? Can we also have moments of reflection about those things that keep us away from God?
What is that thing that people always point accusing fingers at us? Can we have a moment of reflection on them? Can we also decide to make a U-turn and give Jesus a chance?
If We want a Personal Encounter with God
1. We must desire to encounter the Kind of person Jesus is.
Zacchaeus must have heard about Jesus but His attitude today shows that he does not know who Jesus is and has not encountered Jesus before.
He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was. The point here is not desiring to see Jesus but to know the kind of person He is.
In the same way, if we truly want a personal encounter with God, we must desire it.
We must be willing to have first-hand knowledge about the person of Jesus. It is when we develop the attitude of coming close to Him that we will come to understand him.
We need this to stay strong even if our faith wants to fail us. We need this to understand truly that His mercy is new every morning but we do not have time for God.
Rather, we remember God only in times of trouble. God needs more of us. He wants our relationship now not only when trouble comes.
2. We must be willing to overcome our Weaknesses.
When Zacchaeus heard about Jesus, He was willing to have a glance at him but he was too short and could not see Jesus because of the crowd.
The point here is that this man has the desire to see Jesus but he has a limitation, he has a weakness that almost prevented him. Then, to overcome this he has to climb the sycamore tree.
In the same way, many of us have one type of sin or behaviour that keeps drawing us away from God every time. It could be a busy schedule. It could be the type of friends that we have. Also, it could affect the type of life that we are living.
We make decisions to rise, but still, something keeps bringing us down. Zacchaeus was prevented by his stature. He was also prevented by the crowd, but like the woman who suffered from the issue of blood in Luke 8:43-48, Zacchaeus began to seek a way.
Zacchaeus did not start to worry. Also, He did not start to regret or make excuses for his stature.
He would have gone home and said after all it is not his problem. He would have blamed himself and gone home.
This teaches us that many of us have lost glorious opportunities because we allowed weaknesses and mistakes to take over us. We blame ourselves, instead of seeking a way.
Sometimes we blame our weaknesses, past lives and mistakes. The more we talk about them and allow them to take over us, the more we remain where we are.
If we truly want a change, if we want to have an encounter with Jesus, we must be willing to rise above whatever or whoever is drawing us away from Him.
We must be willing to rise above faithlessness, doubt, prayerlessness etc and willing to rise above them and enjoy the koinonia that comes from our relationship with God.
3. We must be willing to have a Sycamore Tree Experience.
When Zacchaeus saw that He could not see Jesus due to His stature and the crowd following Jesus, He climbed the sycamore tree.
The three most significant things that happened on the sycamore tree were:
1. It was on the Sycamore Tree that Zacchaeus was able to see Jesus
2. It was also on the sycamore tree that Jesus was able to see Zacchaeus.
3. It was at the sycamore tree that Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus. Therefore, Zacchaeus made himself available for this encounter. He made a simple effort to be seen.
It was through this, that He saw Jesus, Jesus also saw him and Jesus spoke to Him. Without the Sycamore tree, these would not have been possible.
Therefore, to have a personal encounter with God, we must be willing to have a sycamore tree experience. We must make ourselves available to God.
We have to learn to come close to the church, visit the Blessed Sacrament, go for confessions, receive Holy Communion, create a time for prayers, read His word, do at least monthly programs and novenas, etc.
Through these, we at least make ourselves available for Jesus. It is through these simple efforts, we can encounter him.
Also, by making ourselves available to Him, He can speak to our hearts and draw us closer to Him as He did to Zacchaeus today.
If you truly want to know God, create personal time with Him. You will never regret it.
4. We must be Willing to Rise above the Crowd.
When Jesus reached the spot Zacchaeus is, he looked up and spoke to him: ‘Zacchaeus, come down.
Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. The crowd began to complain when they saw what was happening.
They said that Jesus has gone to stay at a sinner’s house. Hence, this does not stop Zacchaeus from welcoming Jesus. It does not also stop Jesus from going to his house.
If we truly want to have a personal encounter with God, we must rise above what people may say. We must rise above the names they may be calling us.
We must also rise above the worldly way of life and attach ourselves closely to Jesus. What is keeping many of us today is that we are afraid of what people will say if we come close to God. This personal encounter must come from a personal decision.
5. We must find joy in doing it
When Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down. Jesus told him ‘Hurry because I must stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully.
The text said that he joyfully welcomed Jesus. It gave him joy. I have always told people that unless we find joy in whatever we are doing. We must one day stop doing them.
For example, visiting the Blessed sacrament should give you joy, and having time for prayers, and reading the word of God must be spiritual practices that we must have inner joy doing.
We must find joy in doing them. If we can miss our friends and explain to them how much we miss them, can we do the same to the Blessed Sacrament?
How a Personal Encounter with Jesus brought A New Zacchaeus.
During the encounter or meeting between Jesus and Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to Jesus, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ Wow, what a change.
He became a new person. He made the most life-changing promise to help the poor, to pay back whatever he cheated and to be a new person. This can only happen to anyone who had a personal encounter with Jesus.
We need to visit the Blessed Sacrament often, create a perfect time for fellowship with the Holy Spirit and meditate on the Word and it. These will create a close and intimate encounter with God.
It is this encounter that will make faithless Christians develop a strong faith again. it is this personal encounter that will make a prayerless Christian develop his or her prayer life.
Also, it is this type of encounter that makes us seek a life of holiness. We need a personal encounter. Let us go for it as Zacchaeus did.
1. As Jesus calls Zacchaeus today, Jesus also calls us. He calls us to repent and change our lives. He causes us to listen to life-changing homilies, sometimes He makes us pass through challenges to refine us, yet we harden our hearts.
When you go through the gospel, you will discover that immediately Jesus saw Zacchaeus he called him by his name.
This is their first encounter, so who told Jesus His name? This teaches us that God knows us very well. He knows our names.
God knows your plights, challenges and weaknesses. He knows why you have not gone for confession for many years. He knows about family issues.
God knows what is worrying you. He knows what is drawing you away. So, He is also calling you to come down and invite Him into your heart, so that you will have peace of mind.
The encounter between Jesus and the tax collector brought a New Zacchaeus.
In the same way, God is offering you opportunities to come back to Him. Our Lord Jesus Christ passes through your life and calls you by name because He loves you and He wants to save you. Are we willing to respond to Him or not?
2. When Zacchaeus responded yes to His invitation, Jesus visited him. Because he said yes to Jesus, The life of Zacchaeus was transformed.
Salvation came to His house.
Our response to God’s call must be yes. When we say yes to God, when we derive joy in having an encounter with Him, our lives will change.
3. While Jesus was in Zacchaeus’s home, the result is that Zacchaeus repented and became converted. Jesus said that salvation had come to the house of Zacchaeus. (See Luke 19:1–10.)
During this encounter, Jesus affirms that Salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus. It simply means that salvation will surely come when we encounter Him. The easiest way to change our past lives to a newer life is to live a life in Jesus.
Salvation will surely come when we welcome him, discuss with him and allow Him to instruct us. He is offering us this salvation. When He does this, we have to obey and not disobey. A willing encounter with God will surely save our lives.
Therefore, we have to ask, If this thing called salvation could come to the home of Zacchaeus, could it come to my family? If Zacchaeus could be saved, could I?
Therefore, God can transform our lives if we let him. God Is Calling You to Change Your Life. We must Quit blaming God for any misfortune.
Rather, we have to blame ourselves for the refusal to listen, the refusal to accept Jesus into our hearts and the refusal to trust God even in faith challenges.
Zacchaeus teaches us that when you make a solid effort to experience God, You will surely encounter Him. This means seeking Him with all your heart and doing everything He would have you do! And when we do this, we must experience a new life.
5. Finally, we shall observe that in this encounter, the people who are condemning Zacchaeus were the crowd. Jesus did not even talk about the past life of the tax collector. Therefore, what God is interested in is that inner decision to change our lives.
Secondly, we must stop making judgements based on appearance. Far too often we make a judgment about someone based on how someone looks or acts.
We condemn people easily and talk about their pasts as if we are saints. The person we know about his or her past may have changed.
Let’s also quit destroying the names of people. Jesus did not condemn Zacchaeus but offered him the opportunity to change.
This is what we have to do. That soul you are talking about every time needs repentance, So, bring him or her to God rather than destroy His or her image.
5b. Jesus went to dinner with Zacchaeus. Jesus didn’t berate him; He didn’t tell him everything he was doing wrong.
What Jesus did was simply love him; He showed him mercy. He became his friend. That day was a turning point. We also need this turning point. We need a personal encounter with God to experience a turn around. A sincere personal encounter with Jesus will surely change our former self into a newer self.
May God give us the grace to achieve this. May He be with you in all your daily struggles. Amen