Today’s Thoughts: In today’s Gospel we meet one of the most recognizable characters in Scriptures - Zacchaeus. And once again, we experience the reversal theme in Luke’s Gospel just like last week. We might even say that today’s Gospel is the second half of last week’s Gospel. Another story to emphasis Jesus’ invitation to forgiveness and newness of life.
Zacchaeus has some struggles. He is small. He is a tax collector for the occupying Roman Empire, which means he takes money from the Jewish people, his own people. He is rich himself, which puts him above his neighbors. In a strange way, he is, by being small, below others, but by his occupation, he has made himself above others. He climbs a tree to just catch a glimpse of Jesus who was passing that way. Zacchaeus literally puts himself above his neighbors, but at a safe distance from Jesus, not wanting to be seen or encountered. The story tells us that Zacchaeus put himself in a position to see, but Jesus is who sees him first.
In the previous chapter, (Luke 18, 26) there is a big question about who can be saved. It follows the story of Jesus’ calling a rich man to leave everything to follow him and the man could not do it, because of his riches. Our Gospel answers the question with Jesus’ saying that he must stay at the house of Zacchaeus. Tax collectors and all kinds of other sinners can be saved if they allow themselves to be seen by Jesus and so too, by themselves.
Jesus does not say anything about conversion, or giving up his day-job, or his fortune. Jesus says only that he desires to stay with this socially inert fellow. Zacchaeus is reduced, or re-sized to his dignity. He slides down the tree and welcomes Jesus joyfully. He also welcomes himself by reducing the size of his possessions. He fulfills the Jewish law of repayment and Luke has Zacchaeus do what the Rich Man in the previous chapter could not do, he gave half his riches to the “poor”. Conversion follows encounter; Jesus meets us, and the relationship makes the difference in our actions.
The Gospel continues with the grumbling bystanders making a prophetic announcement: “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” The story ends with Jesus restating his mission of seeking and saving the “lost”.
This is central to Luke’s presentation of Jesus. He is the One who came to see and find Zacchaeus, who like the Prodigal Son, was lost and now found. He has come to take up residence with us.
I wonder often about how these people whom Jesus forgave lived in the present, considering each had a personal past with which they had to live. Various people such as Zacchaeus had to live with their histories. He lived among his Jewish townsfolk from whom he had collected unjust taxes and they knew him as wealthier than he should have been living. Zacchaeus himself had to live with himself as well. This is not easy for any of us to do either.
There is a double message for us here. God’s forgiveness of us is not a legal arrangement, but more personal and relational. God desires that we live free from and free for the future. The forgiving touch of Jesus is also to be extended through us to others. We are invited by grace to live forgivingly with those who seek God’s touch, even though we know their sinful histories ourselves. The Apostle Paul had his past; Augustine, Ignatius and many others had to live beyond their personal imprisonments. We climb down from our trees of inferiority and allow Jesus to meet us there and raise us up so to send us to de-tree others and free them, as we can, to live beyond their self-confining judgments. (Adapted from a reflection by Fr. Larry Gillick, S.J.)
Have a great Sunday everyone and don't forget to give God a little time today.
Fr. Paul R. Fagan, C.P. "Preacher on the Run"
Just a few thoughts to help you on your journey through life...let me know from time to time what you think...