31th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The readings of today’s Mass proclaim the love and mercy of God for all. A splendid example of God’s mercy is shown in today’sGospel. Its central figure is the little Zacchaeus who climbs a sycamore tree just to see Jesus. Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector from Jericho. He is one of the richest men in town, used to being treated with deference, a man with many servants, with important connections. This little man is willing to climb a tree like an excited teen-ager just to catch a glimpse of Jesus, whom he already admires.
How humiliating must have been to climb that tree! Many probably made fun of him. He didn’t care. He was willing to do whatever was necessary in order to attain his goal. He had a great faith in the prophet Jesus and wanted to see him. No human respect would keep him away. He didn’t care if they criticized him. He wanted to achieve his objective so much that he forgot about etiquette and propriety. The tought of seeing Jesus in person so captivated him that he became like a little boy, ran down the street and climbed a tree to see over the crowd.
We are not told why he was so anxious to see Jesus. Beneath the curiosity that drove this important little man to climb a tree for a better view, Jesus recognized a humger and a longing that were not satisfied by wealth and power. Jesus stopped right under the tree and did not wait to be invited to his house. He invites himself: the shepherd seeking the one lost sheep. Thus Jesus went against the popular tide of local prejudice. He found a good person and wanted everyone to know about it. The people sneered, Jesus has gone to the home of a sinner. But Zacchaeus had changed and offered to give half his belongings to the poor.
Jesus took the initiative in this conversion story, but Zacchaeus had to be ready for the saving word or it would not have been effective. Zacchaeus was a rich man whose wealth could be regarded as having been amassed through injustice. Yet Jesus chose to enter his house and bring him salvation; the Lord came to save men. Jesus knew he was a kind man and praised him. He blessed his house and called him a son of Abraham, that is, heir of God’s promises and love. He had a right to be saved. Jesus was offering Zacchaeus an opportunity to repent. Spiritual descendance from Abraham is centered on the faith in Christ. From such faith, lived sincerely, comes the attitude a Christian should have toward riches. He should avoid becoming attached to them in fact and in desire.
Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus may be seen as a summary of his ministry. From the time he began in Galilee through his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus had ministered to all. But he had a particular concern for sinners.
We obviously don’t have to climb trees as Zacchaeus did when we want to see what Jesus was like. There is an easier way. The best way for us to see what Jesus was like -and still is- is to prayerfully read the Gospel. He tells us what he told Zacchaeus: I mean to stay at your house today. Each time we read the Gospel, we are opening our minds and hearts and letting Jesus be our guest. And he says to each one of us what he said to Zacchaeus: Today salvation has come to this house.