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Sunday Readings for Oct. 31, 2010 (31C)
By Fr. Alex McAllister SDS
Jesus continues his progress towards Jerusalem and reaches Jericho where he meets the senior tax collector Zacchaeus improbably sitting in a tree.
When Jesus says that he intends to visit his house that day. Zacchaeus is so overjoyed that he spontaneously says that he will give half his property to the poor and to pay back four times the amount to anyone he has cheated.
This extraordinary story is in marked contrast to the incident just a few verses before in which a rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus eventually says the one thing that he lacks is that he must give his riches to the poor the rich young man went away sad because he was a man of great wealth.
Jesus is coming closer and closer to Jerusalem where the purpose of his mission to the world will come into sharp focus. He knows that he will have to give his life, and he knows that he will have to give it soon. In the face of this stark reality material possessions are things of little account.
Of course, material possessions were of little account to Jesus anyway. But as the events of his passion and death loom towards him he urgently stresses to those who wish to follow him that they too should detach themselves from the things of this world.
For Jesus, wealth is an encumbrance; it ties you down, it brings responsibilities, it preoccupies a person too much.
Jesus tells us to concentrate on the essentials, on the things that are really important. He tells us to love God with all our hearts; he tells us to see that justice is done; he tells us to love the poor; he tells us that self-sacrifice is the way to lasting glory.
In the Kingdom of God everything is turned upside down: the last are first and the first last; the humble and the poor and those with a low reputation are brought up to the head of the table.
The aristocratic rich young member of a leading family who has kept all the commandments goes away sad but the crooked old tax collector stuck up a tree is specially sought out by Jesus who pays him honour by visiting his house that day.
This is things being turned upside down, this is the Kingdom of God breaking in on our world.
There are three characters in the story: Jesus, Zacchaeus and the complainers.
Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus is in the tree and Jesus looks up at him—A beautiful illustration of the way in the Kingdom everything is opposite to the way they are in this world; according to our way of thinking the Son of God would ordinarily look down on this sinner but because of the circumstances Jesus looks up at Zacchaeus.
And Zacchaeus is certainly unworthy, he is a crooked tax collector —a senior one— and so despised by all the people. He has compromised his patriotic and religious principles and collaborated with the Romans in order to have the privilege of creaming off a percentage for himself. He knows this; he knows his own sins better than anyone else.
But Zacchaeus is curious about Jesus, he climbs the tree in order to catch a glimpse of him and this curiosity leads to the extraordinary encounter with Jesus who asks to come to visit his house.
Zacchaeus experiences conversion. The request of Jesus has an overwhelming impact on him; that this holy man of God Jesus wants to bless him with his presence makes Zacchaeus want to respond in an extraordinary way by relinquishing his ill-gotten gains and becoming a benefactor of the poor.
As Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house!” The scenario is clear: sinfulness, followed by curiosity, followed by an encounter with the Lord, followed by conversion, followed by repentance.
The complainers on the other hand are envious, they are not open to change and have no sense of their own sinfulness. They are too mean-spirited to give thanks to God for the remarkable transformation that has occurred in Zacchaeus.
According to them Zacchaeus had benefited from his corrupt way of life and enjoyed great wealth and yet now receives even more honour for giving it all away. They just can’t understand it!
They can’t understand it because they are looking at Zacchaeus and his situation rather than thinking of their own sinfulness and their own need to implore the mercy of God. They don’t have his wealth but they wouldn’t have minded it; they’d have been just like him if they could have managed it.
They see no miracle; all they see is unfairness. Their selfishness has blinded them to the marvellous works of God going on right under their noses.
We face the choice of whether to join Zacchaeus or to join the complainers. Jesus is here in our midst; he wants to come home with us from this Church today. Are we looking over our shoulders at what others have gained or do we meet Jesus in the eye and spontaneously repent of our sins and give our excess to the poor?
That is the question which confronts us today. It is a question which will not go away. Let us pray that we will have the courage and the openheartedness to embrace the salvation that Jesus so freely offers to us.