“Zacchaeus was anxious to see to see what kind of man Jesus was”
Zacchaeus desires to see Jesus. In order to do so, he does the unthinkable. He climbs a sycamore tree, risking derision, particularly as a public figure in an unpopular and much-maligned profession. The attraction of Jesus is so powerful for Zacchaeus that fear of what others might think and potential ridicule cannot deter him. His eagerness to see Jesus is sufficiently strong to overcome any negative response he might encounter.
What had he heard about this man that made him want to see Jesus? Luke tells us that Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus, but this appears to be more than simply idle curiosity about physically seeing Jesus. Perhaps, God has been working in Zacchaeus so that he has already moved towards conversion in his heart. In seeking to see Jesus, Zacchaeus takes a first step and Jesus responds. Then, when Jesus addresses him, he can react immediately, hurrying down to where Jesus is and whole heartedly responding.
“Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.”
Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus who, in turn, sees Zacchaeus and, furthermore, wants to stay at his house. Hidden in a tree and unnoticed by others, he comes to the attention of Jesus who looks up. Jesus was passing through the town of Jericho, but He does not pass by. Jesus the seeker of the lost ones, the little ones, not of the brashly self-confident and conceited, sees Zacchaeus. Seeing beyond judgement and condemnation of Zacchaeus’ way of life, he seeks to spend time with him. He doesn’t leave him up the tree, lost and despised but, rather, calls him back to the house of Abraham, restores Zacchaeus to a view of himself as a child of Abraham by allowing him the opportunity to respond to His invitation, an invitation which changes him. For Jesus, Zacchaeus hasn’t been written off. He is still within the boundaries of salvation. What Jesus sees in Zacchaeus isn’t what the crowd sees. It allows Zacchaeus to respond, to see himself differently and to publicly declare his conversion, that he will change his ways. Zacchaeus is happy to accept and to welcome Jesus, but popular opinion disapproves.
“They all complained”
In Luke’s Gospel, we are accustomed to the Pharisees and scribes grumbling and complaining at Jesus’ actions. Perhaps, we tend to distance ourselves from them and their sense of superiority.
Today, Jesus’ interest in Zacchaeus is not approved of but, rather, met with grumbling. The joy of this event is lost on those who witness it and they complain. All present seem to think of themselves as better judges of character and question Jesus’ choice of host. We might consider whether we are among the grumblers and begrudgers in Jericho – do we complain when ‘good things happen to bad people’ or can we rejoice when good things happen?
“Zacchaeus stood his ground”
It is his eager desire – seen in his willingness to take risks – that brings Zacchaeus to the possibility of meeting Jesus. In this encounter, he undergoes conversion. Just as he risked climbing a tree, he takes futher risks. Rather than ignore the peoples’ grumbling or deny wrongdoing, Zacchaeus stands there. Publically, in front of Jesus and the crowd, he pledges to convert, to change his behaviour.
Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus changes him. It can change our lives too. If we meet Jesus with a willing heart and an openness to Him, we will be changed for the better. In response to Zacchaeus and to the grumbling bystanders, Jesus declares that “the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.” In Luke’s Gospel, God through Jesus seeks those who are lost, however one defines being lost. Today, this continues. Jesus seeks each of us, draws near to us, so that in meeting Him, we will meet God. For God, all of us are important. For God, none of us is unworthy. Jesus tells us, and faith tells us, that we are each ‘a daughter or a son of Abraham.’
As we draw near to the end of the Church year, our readings begin to reflect thinking about end times. It is also a time to begin again. Advent approaches – the time of waiting for the birth of Jesus, God-with-us, and of preparation to welcome Him into our homes, hearts and lives.
We might begin to ponder how we will spend that time this year. In light of Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus, we ask:
Will this Advent be different?
Will our wish to see Jesus be a true desire?
Will we make space for encounter with the Lord rather than fill our lives, time, minds with what cannot fill our hearts?
Will we position ourselves in a place or space where this might just happen – Zacchaeus had to climb a tree!
Can we welcome Him and remain open to the conversion that doing so calls us to? Will we allow Him to come to our house and to change us, so that each one of us can hear the words: ‘this one too is a descendent of Abraham.’
Perhaps, we can take the sense of urgency and hurry in the story of Zacchaeus and apply it to the need to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus.
Sr. Eileen O’Connell OP