Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
It’s striking that the story of a little rich man has become one of the great favourites of children. Perhaps it’s the image of Zacchaeus having to climb up a tree to get a proper view over the heads of taller people that speaks to kids. After all, it is their constant reality in an adult world – unable to see what’s going on unless they’re perched on the shoulders of their parents.
Interestingly, for us adults the story of Zacchaeus is probably far less appealing, probably because he doesn’t sound like a very likeable character: small, rich, probably corrupt, and used to getting his way. Yet he is the one who is ‘rewarded’ by Jesus with a visit to his home. I wonder how many of us might secretly harbour just a bit of a less-than-savoury ‘tall poppy’ attitude towards Zacchaeus?
Unlike the parables of Jesus we have been hearing over the last few weeks, we have today a concrete encounter that brings those stories into sharp relief though a real life example. It is one thing to warm to the parable-telling Jesus; it is another thing to see him put it in action. But that is what Jesus is doing here.
We all know those regular themes of Jesus: his constant challenge to people of the problem of riches; his insistent identification with sinners (and prostitutes and tax collectors); and his constant search for the signs of faith that lead to conversion. So, we like the story of Lazarus and Dives; the parable of the parodical Son; the tale of the pearl of great price.
But in the encounter of Zacchaeus with Jesus, we have these three themes coming together in a character that is real, and not very pleasant. As a result, we would also probably react negatively if faced with a similar scenario in our own lives. We don’t like having to give a fair go to someone who themselves have profited by not giving others a fair go. We struggle to reach out to those who do not fit well in our social circles. We wonder how a conversion of faith that is so instant could possibly be rewarded with such generosity by the Lord. (Or more accurately, I struggle with these things, and thereby wonder if you do as well.)
Yet, this real encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus is precisely the parables come to life. Jesus does what he says: He said he had come to bring healing, and he did. He said he had come to welcome sinners, and he did. He said he had come to bring new life, and he did. That nasty little man, whom the townsfolk of Jericho despised, proved to be exactly the person for whom the Kingdom of God belonged.
But lets us all remember, it was not Zacchaeus’ doing – rather, it was all the Lord’s doing. Jesus is the one who stops to speak with him. Jesus is the one who invites himself into this man’s life. Jesus is the one who elicits such a dramatic conversion and act of restitution to those previously harmed.
This is the bit we each need to remember. Because, aren’t we all – even if only in the tiniest of ways – Zacchaeus? Don’t we all desire to meet the One who can heal us; welcome us; bring new life to us? Don’t we all seek to scramble up the trees around our lives, to see Hope standing before us? In the things that have become lost in our own lives, it is in Jesus that they can be found.