Sunday, November 3, 2013

Zacchaeus, "Jesus, I trust in you"

"Now a man there [in Jericho] named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was." Thus begins our Gospel reading for this Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time- Luke 19:1-10.

What was it that made Zacchaeus seek to find out "who" Jesus was? It is important to note that the inspired author does not record that Zacchaeus merely sought to get a look at Jesus, but desired to see "who" He was. So, when Jesus, seeing him up in the sycamore tree, said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house" (Luke 19:5), the wealthy tax collector "came down quickly and received [Jesus] with joy" (Luke 19:6).

If this encounter had ended there that would be enough, but it does not. Zacchaeus received Jesus into his house, a place Jesus entered despite the grumblings of those who did not deem it fit for Him to enter the house of so manifest a sinner. And, without Jesus making any demands on him whatsoever, Zacchaeus, whose business was tax collecting and, hence, to some degree, extortion, spontaneously declared that he was giving half of possessions to the poor and would repay anyone he had extorted four times more than the amount he had taken from them.

I think this stands in some contrast to the rich young man from the previous chapter of Luke, who, upon asking Jesus what he was required to do to gain eternal life, went away sad when Jesus said that in order to gain to eternal life he needed to sell all his possessions, give them to the poor, and then follow Jesus, that is, join his itinerant band. You see, the rich young man's righteousness (he had kept all the commandments from his youth) was not enough to "save' him because only Jesus "saves."

Zacchaeus found out who Jesus is- our Lord and Savior. Did not the Lord say, after Zacchaeus publicly repented, "Today salvation has come to this house"? Our Lord also declared Zacchaeus, who was very likely a Jew, but certainly not an observant one, as opposed to the rich young man, who was observant, to be a "descendant of Abraham."

What made Zacchaeus a descendant of Abraham and an heir to God's promises? His repentance and placing his trust in Jesus, in a word, his faith. Faith is our response to God's initiative towards us. Zacchaeus is a model of faith because, unlike the rich man, who asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Zacchaeus began with the question, "Who is Jesus?" and the desire to know Him.

Surely, both men had heard of Jesus prior to seeking Him out, but there seems to be a qualitative difference in how they approached our Lord. Present in the contrast between Zacchaeus and the rich young man, though not as stark, is something of the same dynamic expressed by Jesus in His parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in last Sunday's Gospel. As a result of his approach, based on Jesus' statement in the previous chapter that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:25), which was made immediately following His encounter with the rich young man, Zacchaeus becomes living proof of Jesus' words, "What is impossible for human beings is possible for God" (Luke 18:27).

In the Book of Revelation the risen Lord says, in His words to the Church in Laodicea, after saying, he reproves and chastises those He loves, and urging them to earnestly repent, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me" (3:19-20). God's Kingdom is a banquet, a wedding feast, of which the Eucharist, situated as we are between the already and the not yet, is both a participation in and foretaste of. Like Zacchaeus, let us receive Jesus with great joy!

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