ZACCHAEUS CAME DOWN QUICKLY AND RECEIVED JESUS WITH JOY
Friday, October 28, 2016
Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
1He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.2Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,3was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.5When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”6And he came down quickly and received him with joy.7When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”8But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “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.”9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
The Parable of the Ten Gold Coins
Other readings: Wisdom 11:22–12:2; Psalm 145:1-2; Psalm 145:8-14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11–2:2
After last Sunday's Gospel, the lectionary skipped over some thirty verses. I would like to briefly review that omitted section as it can shed some light on today's fragment. These verses include Jesus' words about children and how we should imitate their humble condition: "whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it" (18:15-17); the rich man who wanted to "inherit eternal life" and felt disappointed when Jesus told him it was necessary to "sell all that he had and distribute it to the poor" (18:18-23); Jesus' words about the need to renounce riches in order to follow him (18:24-30); the third prediction of his passion and death (18:31-34); and the last miracle in Luke's Gospel, the healing of the blind man from Jericho (18:35-43). Now we are "on the way to Jerusalem." From this point things will go very fast. After his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus' parables and sayings, his disputes with the leaders or representatives of the different Jewish ideological groups, will not only make evident the distance existing between Jesus' religious message and the attitude of his adversaries, but will also expose the open opposition and hatred that surrounds the Master.
In today's passage we find, once again, the eternal paradox of the Gospel. Jesus' words, the characters and the events, all contain unexpected, hidden traits that overturn and disrupt our preconceived schemes and ideas. As usual, too, we find a subtle link between the blind man in the previous section and Zacchaeus: they both "want to see." The blind man's problem is double: his physical impairment and the crowd that wants him "to be silent". And so it is with Zacchaeus: he is "short in stature" and the crowd prevents him from catching sight of Jesus. The blind man's disturbing shouts and Zacchaeus' bizarre climbing of a tree break the barriers, and the miracle takes place. In the case of the blind man, Jesus' action not only gives him the gift of sight but that of believing and becoming a "follower." In the case of the publican, the chief tax collector, the miracle is also double; not only will he "physically see" Jesus, but the eyes of the crowd, who felt scandalized at Jesus' entering the house of a public sinner, will also "open" to an unexpected, hidden dimension that nobody would have ever imagined.
Let me explain what I mean. Usually, this passage has been understood and interpreted as the story of a conversion. But the Gospel does not offer the slightest hint about any repentance or conversion. After his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus, a publican, a public sinner just like the one we saw last week (Luke 18:9-14), does not convert, does not pray for the forgiveness of his sins, does not make any promise about changing his ways. In spite of the negative opinion that the crowd shared about him, he is in facts a fair, honest tax collector, who does his best to deal with the tax-payers in a spirit of justice, shares with the poor half of his profits and repays four times what he might have defrauded or extorted. Look at the text as many times as you like and you will find that all the verbs are in the same present tense as those used by the Pharisee in last week's text to establish his daily, faithful life. They describe something real, not a promise about the future. In fact, there are no words of pardon or absolution on Jesus' lips either. "Your sins are forgiven" (Luke 5:20) or "Go and from now on do not sin anymore" (John 8:11), are not recorded by Luke. On the contrary, Jesus proclaims the tax collector to be a "descendant of Abraham" to whose house salvation has arrived.
What is the moral, then, of the encounter? What can we find as a point of reference for our Meditatio? To whom could we apply the words of our first reading, "you remind them [offenders] of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness"? To the crowd, who grumbled because Jesus was going "to stay at the house of a sinner"? To ourselves, who so often, too, feel unjustly scandalized and become judges of others? Should we apply to ourselves the words of Paul about those who let themselves "be shaken out of their minds or be alarmed by a spirit"? To what extent do prejudices and preconceived ideas prevent us from discovering the real nature of the people we "classify," or from understanding the real meaning and importance of events?
Just a double prayer today. Pray for those who, as we sometimes do, become judges of others: that we may humbly learn to look inside those that we unjustly despise and condemn; and pray for those who suffer the misunderstanding and rejection of the officially "righteous": that the Lord may vindicate their personal dignity and respect.
Slowly but steadily, we are approaching the end of the liturgical year. This can be a good moment to look back and rediscover some of the paradoxes we have found throughout these months, the complex ways of salvation. From the beginning, all the circumstances and characters surrounding Jesus' birth are a total paradox. See the first chapters of Matthew and Luke and recall the characters that recognize Jesus as the Messiah: "aliens" (the angels); outcast, foreign or unimportant people (the shepherds, the Wise men, Simeon and Ana); but no courtiers or priests! Jesus is baptized as a common sinner (Luke 3:21-22). Three Samaritans, heretics and "untouchable" people, play peculiar roles: a woman announces that Jesus could be the Messiah (John 4:5-42); a leper is the one among ten that thanks Jesus for his healing (Luke 17:11-19); another is an example of mercy in a parable (Luke 10:29-37). A blind man can "see" that Jesus is the Messiah, but the Jewish authorities are spiritually "blind" and cannot "see" and believe (John 9). You may go on and on and on....
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón, Roman Catholic priest, Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain