Zacchaeus was anxious to see Jesus.
Have you ever risked your dignity, or even your physical safety, to get a better view? Perhaps you have clambered up on a bus stop roof, clung to railings, or perched precariously atop some object or other. Maybe, like Zacchaeus, you opted to climb a tree to get a glimpse of someone important.
Something about Jesus has piqued Zacchaeus’ curiosity. Faced with a triple hurdle – crowds, his stature, and his unpopularity as chief tax collector – Zacchaeus will not be deterred from his desire to see Jesus. Curiosity pushes him beyond considerations of injury or embarrassment.
Zacchaeus’ curiosity changes his life. It puts him in the right place at the right time. A meeting ensues that proves transformative.
Zacchaeus … hurry, because I must stay at your house today.
If he intends to see without being seen, Zacchaeus does not go unnoticed. Luke recounts that Jesus was “going through”
Jericho. Now instead, Jesus stops, singles Zacchaeus out and calls him by name, expressing an eagerness to meet Zacchaeus that seems no less strong than Zacchaeus’ wish to see Jesus. Reacting to their apparent urgency, and without stopping to think or to protest his unworthiness, Zacchaeus responds “joyfully” to Jesus’ words.
They all complained.
Grumbling regularly accompanies Jesus’ actions in Luke’s Gospel, often voiced by Pharisees and Scribes. Here, Jesus’ interest in Zacchaeus meets with vocal disapproval from all who witness this encounter. Before Zacchaeus can speak, everyone else complains. Questioning Jesus’ decision to “stay at a sinner’s house”, they pass judgment on both men.
Interestingly, the bystanders here are just that, peripheral to what occurs. Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus and Jesus seeks Zacchaeus. Jesus and Zacchaeus speak to one another. Neither replies to the words of critique spoken by the crowd. More importantly, the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus is not interrupted by their outburst.
This man too is a son of Abraham.
Ignoring everyone else, Zacchaeus addresses Jesus. Not only will he make amends for past behaviours but, from now on, will act differently with regards to his possessions and the poor. In reply, Jesus announces the good news. Salvation is here and now. It has come “today” and, not alone to Zacchaeus but, “to this house.”
The Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.
Despite these closing words, we can perhaps see an account, not only of seeking but, of seeing. Before they meet, Zacchaeus had already ‘seen’ something that led him to want to see Jesus. It is not so much the encounter, but Zacchaeus’ desire for it, that leads to his transformation and his salvation. Once Zacchaeus takes that first step, willing to risk injury and opprobrium, Jesus responds. The crowd view Jesus as one who chooses the wrong company. They see Zacchaeus as someone deserving only of the label ‘sinner.’ Jesus, who searches for the lost, sees differently. Where others see a sinner, Jesus sees a host. As a result of this loving seeing, Zacchaeus changes. When they meet, Zacchaeus sees in Jesus one who knows his name and seeks his company without preconditions. This opens him to accepting the salvation God offers, through Jesus, to all the children of Abraham. Is it any wonder he responds wholeheartedly?
What about us?
Today, God continues to seek all who are lost. Like Zacchaeus, our starting point need only be a desire to see Jesus. God will do the rest.
Perhaps our ‘inner Pharisee’ struggles, not with God being merciful to and loving other people but rather, with accepting that God might be merciful to us. Today’s Gospel teaches that we need not wait until we are not “sinners” to seek God because it is God who brings about the transformation in us that leads to our salvation. As the first reading declares of God: “you have mercy on all … you overlook people’s sins that they may repent” (Wisdom 11:23). When we don’t feel ourselves worthy, we might recall that each of us is a child of Abraham to whom Jesus says “I want to stay in your house.”
In light of Zacchaeus, we might each ponder:
Do I desire to see Jesus?
Do I make space for an encounter with the Lord?
Do I position myself in a place or space where this might happen?
Do I make time for the Lord to come to me in the Eucharist, the Word of God, the sacrament of reconciliation, in prayer, in silence?
Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree!
What or where is my tree? Will I climb it?
Like Zacchaeus, may we seek and welcome Jesus.
Sr Eileen O’Connell OP