THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2022)
Wisdom 11:22 – 12:2
Psalms 145:1-2, 8-11, 13, 14
In the ‘lectio continuum’ that is Luke for Year C, it might appear that Jesus’ last thought was last week’s gospel of the Pharisee and tax collector with today’s focus on Zaccheus, a “chief tax collector.” In reality, there are some twenty-five verses between today’s gospel and the gospel for the thirtieth Sunday. On His way to Jericho Jesus heals a blind beggar, shares His third Passion prediction with His disciples, and engages in a discourse on riches and renunciation after His encounter with a rich official. As we stated last week, however, tax collectors for Luke are the perfect foil for those who are “convinced of their own righteousness and despise everyone else,” and today’s story (not parable), recounted only by Luke, will manage to bring up some of the same themes.
We will never know the precise reason Zaccheus felt he needed to see Jesus. We do know why he made the effort to climb the tree: “because he was short of stature,” and couldn’t see above the crowds that followed Jesus. Perhaps his diminutive height, coupled with the reality that he was, at least among the Jews, the most hated man in Jericho, left him with an emptiness that he was trying to fill. He became wealthy by colluding with the Romans, and he no doubt defrauded many of those from whom he extracted taxes. While those around him were quick to judge he was a sinner, Zachaeus no doubt learned from the Jewish Scriptures the kind of God he knew existed: a God who “has mercy on all,” a God who “overlooks people’s sins that they may repent”(Wisdom).
A glimpse of Jesus would have been enough, but imagine Zacchaeus’ surprise when Jesus spotted him in the tree and called out his name. Not only did He call Zacchaeus by name, but Jesus told him to come down from the tree quickly, “for today I must stay at your house.” To dwell at the house of a stranger who was a tax collector has to be the best thing to happen to Zacchaeus in the longest of times. Suddenly, Zacchaeus felt ten feet tall! The grumbling about Jesus, however, was surely audible, for people were upset “that He was going to stay at the house of a sinner.”
Whatever part of Zacchaeus’ heart was longing for his life to change, was the part that experienced the kind of conversion that an encounter with Jesus can bring. Zacchaeus stood before Jesus and professed: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.” From this point on Zacchaeus’ life would be different, regardless of whether he changed jobs, for Jesus makes clear that Zacchaeus “too is a descendent of Abraham,” that is, Jewish, in spite of his job!
Should there be any question of why Luke chose to dig into his sources and include this gospel story, Jesus makes it clear: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost,” one individual at a time. In the person of Jesus, “salvation” came to Zacchaeus’ home, and his heart was opened wide enough to receive it. What started as a thought, turned into an inclination, and then morphed into the action of climbing a tree. Had Zaccheus not followed these subtle urgings, he might have missed the salvation that was missing from his life.
Like Zacchaeus, we can discover the one whom our hearts long for, the one who can give us true peace and joy. All we have to do is invite Him into our hearts and into our homes. We do not have to convince Him that we deserve it because we are nice people. We do not have to grovel because of all the sins we have committed. Like Zacchaeus, we will discover that He already knows us. We will discover that He is already calling out to us before we reach out to Him. And we will soon discover that whatever we have to give up to welcome Him into our homes pales in comparison to the joy He gives.