Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Some read Luke's story of Zacchaeus as one of conversion, much like other encounter stories where Jesus elicits faith from someone who discovers who he really is, and then turns from their old life, forgiven and redeemed, into new pathways. But I don't think I shall follow this road at all, there is something other in the Zacchaeus story that suggests to me he already has faith, already, so to speak is converted. I don't even think his comment to Jesus about material wealth: "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,"(Lk 19:8) is anything other than a comment on the regular deeds of person who has the right attitude to wealth. Zacchaeus is a Hebrew name that means 'clean' or 'pure', more than a hint I think to the kind of person he represents.
So how does this Gospel encounter affect us? What can we draw out of it all? Jericho is the setting, the oldest inhabited city in the world (as well as the lowest!), now in West Bank Palestinian territory. A city on a plain surrounded by mountains, it was always a fertile place because of the springs that are found there, it's nickname was the place of palms, so a prosperous place where a chief tax collector would have plenty to do! We all know that Jesus was hard on hypocrites, and the tax collectors, disliked by many and often at the edge of religious society, were part of his preaching mission, but not in a bad way. The Disciples and crowds equated them with sinners, but Jesus does not treat them harshly, accepting that they have a job to do. "Some tax collectors came to be baptised, and they asked him, 'Teacher, what are we to do?' Don't collect more than is legal, he told them." (Luke 2:12-13) This is not said to Zacchaeus, Jesus does not call him to conversion or admonish him, and instead he fills Zacchaeus with joy, pure joy, a sign perhaps of his innate kindness and goodness!
So what of us then? Perhaps we need to recognise a hidden motif in this story, at this point in Luke we have had a series of parables and stories about sight, here one person wants to see Jesus but cannot, because of obstacles in his way, so he climbs into a sycamore -fig tree in order to catch a glimpse. At that point Jesus sees him, and calls to him, not to repent but enjoy the intimacy of friendship- he may have been lost once, but now he is found and belongs as a companion and friend of `Jesus.
It matters little that the crowd grumble about sinners, and Zacchaeus own desire to act rightly is expressed in his own comment on charitable giving, but everything I this story shows us somebody who lives the commandments and who, as we should, truly recognises Christ. That is what we are called to do, recognise and welcome Christ, for then these words shall become our own: "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."(Lk 19:9,10)
'Zacchaeus' A Poem
Nov 2nd 2019
'Zacchaeus come down!' Jesus shouted
above the noise and bustle of the crowd, over their heads,
His voice like the sound of gentle thunder,
rolling across the landscapes of rocky faith.
Zacchaeus heard him, for he was not afraid,
seeing the one who came among us
in humility and love.
Holding fast to the Sycamore-fig tree,
he could catch Jesus' eye and hold his gaze,
for pure of heart he was, as is his name,
able to stare into the eyes of God,
his own faith filled with joy.
'I am staying at your house', said Jesus,
much as any friend says to a friend,
'I'm popping in to enjoy good time together!'
The question is, do we like Zacchaeus,
recognize the Christ who comes,
oft hidden by the crowds
and sinful situations of our lives?
We may have great consideration of ourselves,
and yet also see
that we too are short of stature in so many ways!
Maybe we should climb up our sycamore -fig tree,
feel joyful and unfraid to respond to Jesus
both in gaze and open hospitality.
For this is the way salvation comes!
Pope Francis - from Homily on Zacchaeus, at World Youth Day Closing Mass, July 16th 2016
That day the crowd judged Zacchaeus; they looked him over, up and down. But Jesus did otherwise: he gazed up at him (v. 5). Jesus looks beyond the faults and sees the person. He does not halt before bygone evil, but sees future good. His gaze remains constant, even when it is not met; it seeks the way of unity and communion. In no case does it halt at appearances, but looks to the heart. With this gaze of Jesus, you can help bring about another humanity, without looking for acknowledgement but seeking goodness for its own sake, content to maintain a pure heart and to fight peaceably for honesty and justice. Don't stop at the surface of things; distrust the worldly cult of appearances, cosmetic attempts to improve our looks. Instead, "download" the best "link" of all, that of a heart which sees and transmits goodness without growing weary. The joy that you have freely received from God, freely give away (cf. Mt 10:8): so many people are waiting for it!
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