Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 31, 2010 – St. John’s
It is a lovely story we hear in today’s Gospel, isn’t it? A man too short to see over a crowd of people climbs a tree for a better look and as a reward for his visit receives Jesus as his guest, and with him Jesus brings salvation to Zacchaeus and his household. We know nothing else about Zacchaeus, but he is one of only two men outside the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples whose name we know. Think of all those other people who appear momentarily in the Gospels but whose names we do not know. The blind men; the woman with the hemorrhage, the rich young man who left sad, …
Salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house in the form of his conversion. He was the “chief tax-collector,” a kind of commissioner of taxes for the busy area around Jericho, and this had made him a wealthy man. It also would have made him a pariah in Jewish society because collecting taxes or tolls put him into regular contact with the Roman occupiers of the land, and he seems not to have had scruples about abusing his authority. All this lies behind the complaint of the crowd that Jesus had gone into the house of a sinner. St. Augustine’s comment: They were criticizing the physician for entering the house of a sick man.
Zacchaeus, already intrigued enough by Jesus’ reputation to run ahead and climb that tree, is so overwhelmed by his presence in his own house that he announces his conversion: He will give half of his wealth to the poor, and the other half he reserves so that he can repay victims of his extortion four times over. This is not a conversion simply in words; it takes concrete form in the overturning of his whole way of living. This is why Jesus can exclaim: “Today salvation has come to this house,” and he can rejoice because “the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.”
It is in that joy of Jesus that we should find the comfort of this Gospel-story. Zacchaeus the sinner, who had been lost, Jesus sought and saved. The first reading today had prepared for this effort of his. Our God, we were told, has mercy on all, overlooks their sins so that they may repent; for he loves everything that exists, and hates nothing of what he has made. Our responsorial Psalm took up the theme: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness…. The Lord lifts up all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.”
In Zacchaeus, then, let us find yet another person in whom to see ourselves when we must admit that we are sinners. Zacchaeus was short in stature, St. Augustine said, and even shorter in heart. But he climbed that tree in order to see Jesus, and Jesus in turn saw him. Knowing how God’s grace always comes first, we could say that Zacchaeus sought Jesus because Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus. Everyone of us should be sure that Jesus is even now seeking us, looking for us, and waiting for us to look for him, so that he can invite himself into our hearts.