In today’s Gospel we hear the familiar story of Zacchaeus. It is a story that may remind us of our childhood, our first confession, or, as in my case, it might bring a school song to mind that you can’t get out of your head! As with all familiar Gospel stories, we are invited to read again with fresh eyes and hear again as if for the first time. For this story is very rich and we risk losing the meaning due to our familiarity with it.
Like many people today, Zacchaeus was a ‘seeker.’ We read that he was anxious to see what Jesus was like. Clearly, he was drawn to Jesus in some way, was searching for something or someone. Zacchaeus was an outcast, a tax collector, considered a sinner by the community. Yet Jesus reaches out to him in a gesture of hospitality and friendship. In return, Zacchaeus offers the strictest requirement, as noted in the Jewish scriptures, for restitution: ‘four times the amount’ of money he had taken from people. But notice that Jesus reaches out in love before Zacchaeus offers compensation for his crimes.
The encounter with Jesus has led Zacchaeus to be a witness to restoration and solidarity. He wants to restore justice where he has acted unjustly. Whether it was the crowd, greed, politics or corruption that was preventing Zacchaeus from seeing Jesus, he has been welcomed back to the table. Jesus is waiting to be invited to his home today. Complaints and negativity continue in the background, but none of that matters. This man is a ‘son of Abraham’. It was the affection of Christ, not the condemnation of the town, that reversed the situation.
Who do you need to reach out to today in a similar way?
Zacchaeus showed himself open to the call of Jesus, to the surprise of his contemporaries who thought there was no good in tax collectors. Sometimes the people who give us lessons in goodness may be people we previously disregarded. Recall when this happened for us.
It was the eagerness of Zacchaeus to see what kind of a man Jesus was that opened him up to conversion. When we consider moments of change in our lives, what were the interests or desires that prepared us for change?
The decision of Jesus to eat in the house of Zacchaeus broke the social norms of his day and scandalized those who saw him. When have we found table fellowship a useful way of breaking down artificial boundaries between people? When has a kind word had this effect?
Zacchaeus had become rich off the backs of the people and they thoroughly disliked him. Yet he was the one singled out by Jesus and he responded to Jesus’ call. Perhaps we have also seen people who hurt us and caused us pain change their ways. How have we reacted to such a change? What has helped us to see the grace of God at work, and give thanks?