Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house." So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner." Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
- Luke 19:1-10
Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again." But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken. Then it happened, as he was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, "What do you want Me to do for you?" He said, "Lord, that I may receive my sight." Then Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well." And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Interestingly, my study bible tells us that Jericho "was notorious as a place of iniquity and is commonly associated with sinful living." In the story of the Good Samaritan, the dangerous road he was traveling was between Jerusalem and Jericho.
Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. We've just been told how hard it is for a wealthy person to be saved (see With God all things are possible). My study bible says today's reading demonstrates that grace can accomplish that which is impossible to man.
And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. My study bible suggests that there are a variety of spiritual interpretations that give us a universal significance in this encounter. It says that Theophylact sees the crowd symbolizing sins: "Crowded in by a multitude of passions and worldly affairs, he is not able to see Jesus." It notes that St. Ambrose sees several parallels: (1) Zacchaeus being short is meant to be seen as being short on faith and virtue; (2) Zacchaeus' need to climb a tree tells us that no one attached to earthly matters can see Jesus; and (3) that Jesus planned to pass that way tells us that Christ will approach anyone who is willing to repent and believe.
And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house." So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner." Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold." My study bible says that Zacchaeus uses the term give for his free and generous offering to the poor, and restore for what he owes those he had cheated, as this was not a gift but required by the Law (Exodus 22:1). It says, "By doing both, Zacchaeus not only fulfills the Law, but shows his love of the gospel."
And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." My study bible says, "The title son of Abraham indicates Zacchaeus had become like this patriarch of Israel: he was counted righteous by his faith, he became generous toward the poor, and he was united to the people of God. Early records tell us he went on to be a bishop of the Church."
Guilt is something we need to think about. What is it when a person is guilty of something? Here, we see the love of God at work in addressing a person who's been guilty of committing particular injustices. Christ approaches, but Zacchaeus, far from being content with his life even though he's wealthy, wants to see Him, wants to know Him. So he climbs the tree, makes an effort with help to get there via a sycamore. But it's Jesus who already knows Zacchaeus, just like He knows each one of us. It took Zacchaeus' efforts to get there and make that connection of faith, even though Christ was already approaching and already knew something about Zacchaeus. It's Christ who tells this short, rich, chief tax collector that He's going to come to his house to stay. Zacchaeus makes restitution in both a legal (as proscribed by Mosaic law), and a charitable way (by committing to giving half his goods to the poor -- quite a generous sum in recompense). Jesus pronounces that salvation has come to this house; that's not just in the Person of Jesus, but also in the connection of faith with Zacchaeus, a repentance -- a turning around -- as well in his behavior. And that is enough to declare that salvation is present. There is no sense here of a need for Zacchaeus to beat his breast, or torture himself, or be tormented by his neighbors and the crowds for the rest of his life -- or even, if today's mass media had been present, to be vilified by strangers everywhere. What's necessary is faith, and the commitment to make restitution, to change his life -- by changing his mind (the meaning of the Greek word translated as "repentance") -- and to go forward truly as a "son of Abraham" in the way my study bible explains. It seems to me that our modern world hasn't changed much in its mercilessness. A "worldly" sort of interpretation of guilt these days seems to take a free rein to vilify in every way possible the person we perceive as guilty of violating some sort of code, and justice doesn't have much to do with that sort of behavior. Law is present to specify correction or remedy. Popular media can teach us what it is to pick a target and absolutely pile on with insult and threat without much thought of even information; that makes it a merciless environment. All of this teaches us the opposite of what it is to be really saved, to deal with guilt in the ways that Jesus does. It is the opposite of a Christian way to address a problem. The most important thing that we can note here is the commitment that Zacchaeus isn't just telling these things to Jesus for show. He's not just being a hypocrite for a moment and he's done. No, salvation has come to his house in the form of Christ who fully expects that Zacchaeus' future behavior wil bear out the change, the commitment, the love of God and neighbor that Jesus preaches. And that's the real salvation and repentance, an every day, total change commitment. It's not that we're supposed to be perfect -- that's more the world's judgment by image. But to make that commitment and to move forward in change, that's Christ's way. There's no "piling on." No rage, no move to pillory here, or stone Zacchaeus. The outrage is reserved for the crowds, and is projected on Jesus for His way of salvation and the company He's chosen to keep this day. This is crucially important for us to see, because it happens all the time. Love works to save that which was lost, to see what is salvageable, and to open the door in response to a sincere desire. Let us remember, if we are guilty, what is the difference between the world's way of shaming, and Christ's way of love. Let us do the work of faith and action He calls for in making restitution when we can, for changing our minds and our lives, and trust in that love rather than the world's endless judgment. He shows us the way, His Way, of charity and love.