Nov 16, 2019
From the desk of Fr Stephen
The story in today’s gospel about Zacchaeus has always been one of my favorite stories in the bible. I think it has been one of my favorites because it shows how Jesus really does reach out to the sinner, hoping that person turns away from their sins back to God. For me, this is the central theme in the gospels; God’s call to us and then our response to that call.
In this story, Zacchaeus is a tax collector, a sinner. Somehow he has heard about this marvelous preacher, Jesus, and he wants to get a look at him. In the story, although he is interested, he is not too brave. He doesn’t want to go up and confront Jesus in person but chooses to see Jesus from afar. He climbs a tree hoping to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he comes by. But Zacchaeus is on Jesus's radar. He knows Zacchaeus has heard the promptings of God and is ready for something more. Jesus goes right over to the tree that Zacchaeus is hiding in and says that he wants to come over to Zacchaeus’ house. They have never met before, but Jesus is reaching out like they were childhood friends.
For years, the Catholic Church spent a lot of time and energy, trying to scare people into heaven. The church gave a litany of sins, mortal and venial, that was set up to frighten people of the wrath of God, but this can only work for a time, and it only goes so deep. Yes, on the surface people might be leading a moral life, but underneath they were resenting God for forcing them to live this way. This gospel shows us there can be another way of getting someone to change their lives. If Jesus had come to Zacchaeus with his list of Zacchaeus sins and trying to scare him, it would have sent Zacchaeus further up the tree like a frightened cat and may have come down. But Jesus recognizes this. He comes to Zacchaeus, reaching out in friendship. In this way, Zacchaeus's heart melts, he is a sinner. He has cheated people out of their money. He is a crook. But Jesus’s approach changes Zacchaeus. Right then and there he promises to pay back those people he has cheated. Zacchaeus recognizes his own sinfulness and repents. If Jesus had not used this approach chances are Zacchaeus would have never changed his life.
There is a lesson in this story for us too. Notice that Jesus doesn’t make excuses for Zacchaeus. The invitation is there for change. Zacchaeus needs to change, but Jesus does what he does in a gentle way, this change can take place. When we ask people to change, we must be patient and kind. People will change, but they change when they are invited rather than demanded.
Have a nice week!