Sunday, October 30, 2016


"An Alternate Route"
Rev. Ronald Knott
October 30, 2016

Zacchaeus could not see because of the crowd for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus who
was about to pass that way.
Luke 19:1-10

It's been a very long time, over forty-six years in fact, since I graduated from the seminary. There is so much I can't remember, but there is one thing that remains vivid in my mind. It was toward the very end.  I forgot who it was, but one of our teachers asked us to present some "pastoral situations" for class discussion - maybe a wedding, funeral or counseling situation. He asked us to write up the "ideal" way we might handle the situation once we were ordained.

After we had all written up our "ideal" approaches to the situations we described, he collected the papers and stood there in the front of class and ripped them up into small pieces and threw them in the garbage.  After that we said to us, "You will hardly ever get to do the "ideal," so let's talk about some alternative approaches."  Man, has that insight ever come in handy over the last 44 years!

Right after ordination I was sent to southern Kentucky as the first Catholic priest to live in Wayne County. I found myself as the pastor of a church with only 7 parishioners (three adults and four children) with $70.00 in the bank. I was not trained to be a missionary. I knew nothing about the "bible belt" as they called that area of the country. I didn't know how to start a church or how to raise money.  It would have been nice if the bishop would have paid my salary and gave me some money for more education, but he said there was no money available. I could have just sat down and waited out my time down there, but I didn't! I remembered my seminary teacher's advice, "If you cannot do the ideal, find an alternative approach."

I asked three Louisville parishes and a Catholic car dealer if they would together pay my salary till I got settled. I then applied to McCormick Presbyterian Seminary in Chicago for a scholarship to study "parish revitalization."   Guess what? The three Louisville parishes and the car dealer agreed to pay my salary for three years and I got a full scholarship from the Presbyterian Church for a Doctor of Ministry degree in "parish revitalization" on two grounds - minority religion and poverty income!

When I came to Louisville in 1983,  I had been named pastor of this Cathedral. The church was almost empty - just 110 registered parishioners and a few visitors.  Very few people knew it, but it was on a list of churches up for possible closure. Some wanted to close it and make one of the nicer suburban churches our cathedral. It was also in very bad physical condition underneath the cosmetic renovation of the 1970s. I was told by the former pastor not to get my hopes up and that nothing could be done because "there weren't any Catholics living downtown" and "the last renovation had drained the archdiocesan coffers."

I could have just sat down and waited out my time here, but I didn't! I remembered my seminary teacher's advice, "If you cannot do the ideal, find an alternative approach."  I realized that there were very few Catholics living downtown and that raising a lot of money from within the diocese would be out of the question so I went for an alternative approach.  For parishioners, I went after the hundreds and hundreds of "fallen away" Catholics, especially those who worked downtown. For money, I asked people of all religions to help us fix up the cathedral so that all religions could use it. Guess what? In fourteen years we grew from 110 members to 2100 members and we raised over $22,000,000 and 67% of that $22,000,000 came from non-Catholics!    

This is why I love that little sawed-off guy in today's gospel, named Zacchaeus! He wanted to get a glimpse of Jesus coming down the road, but he was too short to see above the crowd! He could have said, "Oh, well, maybe next time," but he didn't. He found an alternative. We are told that he "ran ahead" and "climbed a sycamore tree"  along side the road where Jesus would be passing by.  Because of his ingenuity and determination, Zacchaeus not only got to see Jesus,  but because Jesus was able to see Zacchaeus in the tree and because Jesus admired his determination, Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus' house for dinner!

Zacchaeus reminds me of those guys who wanted to get Jesus' attention in another gospel story. Their buddy needed healing. He was crippled. When the door of the house where Jesus was staying was blocked by huge crowds of people, they could have given up and carried him back home. Instead they carried him up on the roof, tore a hole big enough to lower their buddy down, right in front of Jesus! Jesus commended those guys for their determination and healed the crippled man right then and there.    

My friends! We can learn a lot from this little man today! So many of us sabotage great possibilities in our lives by giving up too soon, especially when the door seems blocked to us! Zacchaeus teaches us that when the door is blocked, we should try another door,  maybe an open window, and if that does not work, go through the roof or even dig under the foundation!  Find an alternative route, but never give up without a search!

My friends! Declaring a situation as "impossible" is very convenient. It let's us off the hook and relieves us of the hard work of looking for "alternatives."  Nobody expects us to do the "impossible,"  do they?  Nobody will blame us for doing nothing if we can convince them that "nothing can be done," would they? Instead, learn from Zacchaeus!  Use you imagination, look for alternatives and be resourceful, but do not let go of your dreams too easily!  If you give up too easily or too early, you just might be the one to kill your own dreams and block your own blessings! 

Here is another story that I like to tell. It's about watching TV one day and seeing a young man who had been in a motorcycle wreck and had one of his legs amputated, being interviewed. He had been a great athlete and was eaten up with bitterness about the loss of his leg. It was depressing so I turned the channel. On the other channel was a young man, about the same age, coming dawn the mountains on skis. It wasn't till he got to the end of his run that I noticed that he was a one-legged skier in the Handicapped Olympics!

One young man gave up and the other one got up! The second young man, with one leg, got up and looked for alternatives. Like Zacchaeus, who really wanted to see Jesus, and found a way to overcome his shortness, the second young man found an "alternative" rather than simply "giving up." 

As my hero, Philo T. Farnsworth inventor of television, put it, "Impossible things just take a little longer!"   Here is another one of my favorite quotes. This one is from children's author, Chris Bradford.  "Anyone can give up; it is the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone would expect you to fall apart, now that is true strength." 

Never give up! Don't quit! Just look for an alternate route! 



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