Sunday, November 3
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 19: 1 – 10
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”
Zacchaeus is described above as a chief tax collector. If tax collectors were hated for their taxes and their corrupt methods in obtaining them, then a chief tax collector would be doubly hated. The tax collection system at that time was based on collecting quotas set by Rome. Each tax collector was given their quota by the chief tax collector. Anything collected in excess of the quota would be kept by the tax collector. One of the original pyramid schemes. It was a system driven to over collect by whatever means available to the tax collector. A chief tax collector would typically do the same to the tax collectors working under him.
Yet, Zacchaeus is drawn to see Jesus as he passes through town. To do this, Zacchaeus has to overcome several challenges. He displays courage just by showing up, surrounded by people who hate him. He has trouble seeing over the crowds and climbs a tree making himself even more vulnerable. His driven curiosity becomes the initial action as this story unfolds. It becomes an example for us of someone who comes looking to satisfy one curiosity only to discover something entirely unexpected — and yet wonderful.
Then, we have the action of Jesus. As often said of Jesus in the gospels, “He mixes with sinners and tax collectors and even eats with them.”
Then, we have Zacchaeus’ response, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” One conclusion to this story is that Zacchaeus, because of his encounter with Jesus, has undergone a radical conversion. He will give up his corrupt ways. He will share his wealth with the poor and will make restitution to anyone he has cheated.
Perhaps, we might draw another conclusion. Zacchaeus makes his claim with confidence as he knows he has not cheated others in the past. Perhaps he was a good man and has performed his job with no such corruption. He may have been mischaracterized and hated for his profession and not his past behavior. In other words, although he is a tax collector and apparently rich, he is, in fact, a good man. Under this interpretation, there is the possibility that the crowd has misjudged Zacchaeus by stereotyping him because of his profession, including his worthiness to host Jesus for dinner.
Regardless of either interpretation, we are compelled to consider how dangerous and wrong our own stereotyping can be when we ourselves carry a lifetime collection of good and bad behavior. Jesus sees through all of this in today’s gospel and he sees through it in us. He restores individual dignity by his reincorporation of Zacchaeus into the community. We can all learn from Jesus’ lesson of mercy he had shown Zacchaeus. We should do likewise.
-Deacon Don Poirier