Today’s Gospel story of Zaccheus, the “short guy in the sycamore tree,” is both well-known and popular. Who is this man, what is his identity? He was a chief “publican” and a corrupt man. Publicans were Jews who worked for the foreign Romans; they betrayed their own homeland and people. As a tax collector, Zaccheus sought money in customs tariffs and various illegitimate means. He exploited people, benefitting himself instead of helping others.
As Jesus approaches, Zaccheus becomes curious. Zaccheus thinks to himself: I would like to see him, just to satisfy my curiosity. Then, he takes a surprising action; he does a foolish thing; he actually climbs a tree! As Jesus approached, he spotted him and said: “Zaccheus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” We can only imagine Zaccheus’ astonishment!
God’s Mission. Commenting on this Gospel, Pope Francis offers a beautiful insight. “Why does Jesus say ‘I must stay at your house’? What duty does this refer to? We know that his highest duty is to implement the Father’s plan for all of humanity, which is fulfilled in Jerusalem with his death sentence, the crucifixion and, on the third day, the Resurrection. It is the Father’s merciful plan of salvation.”
“In this plan there is also the salvation of Zaccheus, a dishonest man who is despised by all, and therefore in need of conversion. In fact, the Gospel says that when Jesus called him, they all murmured ‘He has gone into the house of a sinner.’ The people saw Zaccheus as a scoundrel who became rich at his neighbor’s expense…. They began to whisper: ‘Jesus is going to his house, the house of the sinner, the exploiter.’”
God’s Mercy. Pope Francis continues: “Guided by mercy, Jesus looks for him precisely. And when he enters Zaccheus’ house, he says: ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he is also a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’ Jesus’ gaze goes beyond sins and prejudices. And, this is important! We must learn this.”
“Jesus’ gaze goes beyond sins and prejudices; he sees the person through the eyes of God, who does not stop at past faults, but sees the future good…. Jesus does not stop at appearances, but looks at the heart. And there he sees this man’s wounded heart: wounded by the sin of greed, by the many terrible things that Zaccheus has done. He sees that wounded heart and goes there.”
God’s Compassion. “Jesus attitude toward Zaccheus shows us another way: that of showing those who err their value. The value that God continues to see in spite of everything, despite all their mistakes…. It gives people the confidence which makes them grow and change. This is how God acts with all of us.” Friends, let us appreciate how our God is both a God of mercy and a God of surprises!
James H. Kroeger, M.M.
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
You gaze upon my past, Lord Jesus,
yet still come with me to my home.
You look upon my sinfulness,
Lord Jesus, and still call me by my name with love.
You see beyond my faults and failings
and gently show me what I yet
may still become by your grace.
O Lord, you know I am not worthy
that you should enter my house,
call me by name, or merit your mercy
and yet you deign to be with me
not just because of who I am but more
because of who you are.
Your presence empowers me to repent
and your grace enables me to make
amends for all I have injured or betrayed,
knowing now that your power to save me
is infinitely greater than my power to sin.
By Fr. Joseph Veneroso. M.M.