31st Sunday Year C. A realhomilie from Fr Kevin Walsh, Sydney Australia. Zacchaeus, Jesus wants to see you!
Today we have a great story in the Gospel with a message for all generations! We can so easily picture Zacchaeus running through the crowd, being jeered at by many people because he was well known and a wealthy Tax Collector. Then overcome by enthusiasm, reverting to his childhood days he climbs a tree so that he could get a good view of Jesus. He certainly caught the attention of Jesus, much more than he had ever dreamed of. Not only did he see Jesus, but also he was personally invited to meet him, and to have Jesus as a guest in his house.
Let’s go deep sea diving into the Scriptures……Let’s not forget, that according to the Lucan community, Jesus and his Companions are on a Missionary journey, heading towards Jerusalem. Let’s also remember that Jericho, Biblically speaking, is a very important location. It was the first major city that the chosen people, led by Joshua, came to in the Land of milk and honey; the Promised Land. It was also the biggest fruit bowl in the whole Jordan valley which had its water origin in the Mountains to the North, Mt Hermon, which was the source of the Jordan River. It was also situated near to a big Oasis, surrounded by Palm trees, Sycamores, Dates and Orange Trees. Early in Our Lord’s ministry-life, the great Temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, took place within eye sight of Jericho….just some miles up into the forbidding hills. In short, this would not have been the first time for Jesus to visit this place. It is of note that Jesus knew who Zacchaeus was and what he did with his life! Everyone else seemed to know this too…..he was a senior Tax collector, not just a Novice in the job.
Let’s look at Zacchaeus; an inventive and curious man; creative in his ventures, and he used his imaginative gift to ‘catch a glimpse’ of Jesus! Seeing that everyone knew Zacchaeus, it would not have really surprised him that Jesus knew him by name……however, this is not some extract from the reporting in the local Newspaper, The Jericho Times; this is about salvation! Remember the text in the Old Testament, ‘I have called you by name, you are mine?’ This is action right now for Zacchaeus; the wisdom spoken about in the first reading today is actualised in this man’s response. Look at the attitude within Zacchaeus as he responds to the call of Jesus! He is joyful, and contrite! Zacchaeus was not hoping that Jesus would be a new recruit for the Taxation Office; no, he could see in Jesus, the saving hand of God at work, so much so that he could not care less what the crowd where thinking, or judging at this: Seize the moment, opportunity!
Let’s be more curious….Jesus and Zacchaeus go inside the House….and it was within the House, that Zacchaeus realized that he was being offered salvation, and just as Jesus was reborn at the moment of his Resurrection, Zacchaeus had a complete change of life style…..virtually standing on his hands and seeing the world and its people differently….a changed man through this ‘life changing’ Sacramental moment, may I dare say! He then ‘lived’ the ‘new life’ offered to him, and together with his wholehearted response, was made new! Thus this underlined the reason for the Travelogue of Jesus and his companions…..’To seek out and save what was lost.’ Now, let’s reflect a little more on what was happening in Zacchaeus, and what continues to happen in our own encounters with the Risen Lord, as we traverse our personal and community pilgrimage to God our Father.
Immediately upon entering Zacchaeus’ house, we can see the results of Jesus’ action. Without saying a word, Zacchaeus is deeply moved, being in the presence of Jesus, and he makes some radical decisions about his life-style, and his manner of treating other people. Salvation had come to his house, he was in the presence of the Lord, and his heart was touched in a deep way. He was determined to right the wrongs in his behaviour; in other words he underwent an inner conversion or change of heart a metanoia.
On the other hand, we look at Jesus in this situation. For a start he like most of the people was aware of the position that Zacchaeus held in the Tax Collecting System, and he too was prepared to risk his own good name, not only by calling out to Zacchaeus, but by inviting himself to stay in his house. Again people could judge Jesus in an unfair way in this regard because they would think that Jesus was in league with the leading Tax Collector. This radical move by Jesus which cut through the social norms of the time, highlights for us the loving, forgiving ‘outreach’ of God in Jesus to the so called sinful fringe dwellers of society. Just as Zacchaeus was anxious and determined to see Jesus, Jesus was determined to see him too.
Just like last Sunday’s Gospel, the Tax collector realized his need of God’s love and said, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner”.
Again, we see in today’s story the results of that inner awareness of what God offers….the offering of truth, forgiveness, and loving kindness. Notice that Zacchaeus immediately puts into action the implications of this loving embrace from God in his day-to-day living.
What about us? What does this story mean for us? What does it say about God longing to have us back, and we in turn responding positively to this invitation. Jesus says to us: ‘I want to dine with you, I want to share Eucharist with you, I want to nourish you by my Word, and I wish that you would always welcome me in your brothers and sisters…’ Food for thought, eh?
Fr Kevin Walsh
Stanhope Gardens – Sydney, Australia