Just a few words of gratitude to all who were praying for my younger sister, Patricia, who went to her eternal rest last Friday, October 25th. Your thoughtfulness is a comfort in this time of loss....
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him 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. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
"Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house."
And he came down quickly and received him with joy. L
Last Sunday's Gospel,
Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector,
focused on themes of humility, true prayer and God's mercy. Immediately following this
parable, Luke presents four passages of note:
- Jesus' comment regarding children and the Kingdom of God: "Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it" (Lk 18:17).
- Jesus' encounter with the rich official who is unwilling to sell all he has so as to distribute it to the poor (Lk 18:18-23).
- Jesus' words regarding riches and renunciation (Lk 18:24-30).
- 4. Jesus' healing of the blind beggar who asks for the gift of sight (Lk 18:35-43).
It is against this backdrop that we meet Zacchaeus, one of the chief tax collectors, whose story is our focus today. Though his wealth and reputation suggest that Zacchaeus was not that innocent in terms of his financial dealings, yet we see in him the child-like qualities that make him worthy of God's "Kingdom": not only does he "run" to catch a glimpse of Jesus, but he also clambers up a sycamore tree to get a better view. Neither running nor tree climbing would have been appropriate for a man of his social standing and yet his curiosity was stronger than his adherence to social conventions. We can imagine him hiding among the tree branches, peering down at the crowd, and his sudden shock when Jesus unexpectedly stopped beneath the tree. Then we see him eagerly scrambling down, completely oblivious to his undignified appearance. Luke tells us that he received Jesus "with joy."
Unlike the rich official who cannot let go of his wealth, upon meeting Jesus face to face, Zacchaeus immediately promised to give away half his possessions to the poor and to make four-fold restitution to those he may have cheated. In that encounter, his relationship to money changed: hoarding and possessing gave way to giving; extorting was no longer an option. From that moment on, amassing "treasure in heaven" would be his goal and, like the proverbial camel, he would now be able to pass through the eye of the needle, unencumbered by his riches.
Faith saved Zacchaeus. Just as the man born blind asked Jesus for the gift of sight, so Zacchaeus came to faith the moment Jesus looked at him. Experiencing the love and validation of Jesus' gaze, Zacchaeus was able to see himself as "a descendant of Abraham," a child of God." He was "lost" but then was found, was blind but then could see....
Child-like trust, renunciation of materialism and the courage to see ourselves as God sees us are themes of today's Gospel. The invitation is to take a risk, to let go of all that ties us down, and to allow ourselves to experience Divine beholding. We have no need of sycamore trees; all we must do is learn to see as God sees -- and to respond with joy.