“Now there was a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, who was seeking to see who Jesus was…”
Jesus, could we talk? I find your meeting with Zacchaeus intriguing. Luke says that you were passing through Jericho. A man is sitting up in a sycamore tree to get a better view of you. This certainly had to catch your attention. Needless to say, this short fellow was looking for something, for someone. You took him on. You had to ask , first of all, what his name was. “Zacchaeus, the tax collector.” I am sure that he was surprised when you called him by name. Even more surprisingly you asked to be invited over to his house. Zacchaeus shimmied down the tree with great delight! He came down quickly and received you with joy.
But almost immediately the picture grows dark. The crowd standing around began to crumble at you. How dare you, Jesus, go to the house of a sinner. Oh, my! Zacchaeus worked for the Romans, that group of pagans. He was collecting monies for the Romans who had been attacked by your fellow Jews a long time ago. The Romans won and then demanded some restitution of you Jews by way of taxes. This has to be an ever irritating sore that this rascal Zacchaeus takes your money and receives a salary for doing so.
The crowd is not silent: “He eats with sinners.” Well, Jesus, that’s what you get for not checking out your friends! I love Zacchaeus’ reaction to the crowd. He realizes what is bothering them. He tells them, Jesus, that money isn’t everything. “Half of all I own I give to the poor.” No strings attached. And he adds that if he has defrauded anybody, he will give them back four times as much. That promise was not an idle one.
Where does this leave the crowd, your disciples, me and those who are reading this? You went right to the heart of the situation. “Salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, like the rest of you is a descendant of Abraham.” And what is more, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Salvation has played out in all of our lives. Thank you for seeking and saving what was lost. That applies to me, too.
Jesus, I know you. You also know me. I realize that our friendship has grown and will continue through the years that remain for me. There have been personal up’s and down’s (not the Zacchaeus tree variety!) from time to time. I’ve known both light and darkness, joy and sorrow, success and failure. You’ve seen my tears of laughter as well as those of sorrow. I’ve known what it is to walk by faith. I’d like to borrow a line from St. Paul: “The life I now live I live in the faith of the Son of God who loves me and gave himself up for me.” And I love you, too.
Fr. Peter Berendt, C.P., is a member of St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Community in Detroit, Michigan.