As long as we are ruled by greed and selfishness, we only think of ourselves and our welfare. But as soon as Jesus takes hold of our life, we begin to think about the needs of others.
Luke’s gospel can very well be called the “Gospel of the Underdog.” Jesus consistently shows his love and preference for the outcasts and the little ones: In the gospel, three Sundays ago, it was the Samaritan leper, an outcast, who was praised by Jesus – not the nine Jewish lepers. Two Sundays ago, it was a little old widow who won over the corrupt judge and got her demand. Last Sunday, it was the tax collector who was justified in the temple, not the self-righteous Pharisee. Today, it is Zacchaeus, another tax collector, who welcomed Jesus in his house, not the self-righteous critics.
Zacchaeus (his name means “just” or “clean”) is described by St. Luke as “a chief tax collector, a wealthy man, but short in stature.” He wanted very badly to see Jesus; and he did not stop at anything to have his wish come true, to the point of forgetting his social standing and making a fool of himself by climbing on a tree like a little monkey. Why did he want so badly to see Jesus? Was it plain curiosity? Was it remorse? Was it dissatisfaction with his wealth and with his way of life? Author J. Oswald Sanders, is his book entitled Facing Loneliness, says: “The millionaire is usually a lonely man, and the comedian is often more unhappy than his audience.” Money can fill your pockets but it empties your heart.
Zacchaeus’ act of childish abandon amply paid off. He got a lot more than what he was looking for or had expected. He not only got a glimpse of Jesus from his advantage point; he had the immense privilege of bringing Jesus right into his house. It looks like Jesus was just as eager to meet him as he was to meet Jesus. We can always find the Lord, if we really want to. He is always eager to meet us; in fact, he often takes the initiative. But then, we have to come out of ourselves, like Zacchaeus. Jesus will never find us if we remain enclosed in the bunker of our selfish, sinful ways.
Zacchaeus found salvation when he let go, not only of his social status but also of the wealth that enslaved him. He was a wealthy man but he was not happy; he was not really free. Money and power, especially if they are ill-gotten, enslave us. Ours may look like a golden cage, but it is a cage nonetheless. We must let go of it in order to be free.
Once Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus into his house and into his life, his heart was filled with grace and boundless generosity: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor.” As long as we are ruled by greed and selfishness, we only think of ourselves and our welfare. But as soon as Jesus takes hold of our life, we begin to think about the needs of others.
Zacchaeus’ story tells us that we cannot reconcile ourselves with God without reconciling with our fellowmen. We cannot seek forgiveness from God in the sacrament of reconciliation and then go on committing injustice and abuse against our workers and household help. It tells us further that restitution and reparation are necessary ingredients of true repentance: “If I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”
Lastly, Zacchaeus’ story shows that, just as our wrongdoings often hurt the people around us (e.g., irresponsible parents bring shame and embarrassment to their children), so also our conversion brings about blessing and grace to the entire family: “Salvation has come to this house.” Not just to Zacchaeus but to his entire household as well.
May our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist transform our life and that of the people around us, as it did transform the life of Zacchaeus and of his household!
as published on November 3, 2013, Parish Bulletin
About Fr. Jesus and his reflections