Thirty-First Sunday of the Year
The gospels for this Sunday and last highlight tax collectors, those who were despised by the people because they collaborated with the Romans by collecting taxes for them. They were looked on as “sinners”; indeed last Sunday’s tax collector acknowledged as much when he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” and Jesus said of him that he went home justified rather than the Pharisee who was full of his own virtue. Today’s tax collector experiences the same conversion and puts into practice what it demands of him.
Zacchaeus must have wanted to see Jesus very much if he was willing to set aside his dignity by running ahead of the crowd (adults didn’t run in public in the world of his time) while he risked destroying his rich man’s clothes by climbing a tree in order the better to see Jesus. We are specifically told that it was a “sycamore” tree, the branches of which are near enough to the ground and its leaves good and thick so that he could be hidden; obviously he didn’t want to draw attention to himself in a hostile crowd. Indeed they do prove themselves hostile when Jesus calls him down, saying “I must stay at your house,” and they complained that he was going to dine in a sinner’s house. In a prophetic action, Jesus then takes on himself the hostility the crowd feel towards Zacchaeus. The joy of the latter is palpable. I once shared a platform with a man who had been an alcoholic and when he spoke of his conversion, I couldn’t help envying him his wonderful sense of the great mercy of God.
As with many of the Sunday gospels in the past few weeks, Luke hammers home the point that what Jesus was trying to do was to bring about a complete reversal of attitude in his hearers. Last week he spoke of those who “prided themselves in being virtuous and despised others;” today Jesus says that he has “come to save what was lost,” a point already made in a recent Sunday gospel in the parable of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.
St. Dominic had that desire to save the lost to a great degree: there is the story told of him, for example, staying up all night arguing with an innkeeper until he brought him back to the faith. I wonder did they celebrate with a jug of wine when morning came!
(Sr Celine Mangan O.P)