“Today salvation has come to this house.” Those words from today’s gospel are the most important we will ever hear. But when Jesus comes to our house, how do we respond? Do we eagerly and joyfully welcome him in or are we afraid to even open the door?
Today’s gospel is the well known, and almost comical, story of Zacchaeus, the tiny tax collector of Jericho who will not let his short stature keep him from seeing Jesus. With his view obstructed by the crowd, Zacchaeus is so curious about Jesus that he scrambles up a sycamore tree and waits for Jesus to come his way. When Jesus spots him, he says, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. I mean to stay at your house today.” Here “house” is a metaphor for our lives, so Jesus is asking Zacchaeus to welcome him into his life, so much so that there will be no point of his life that is not transformed and transfigured by Christ. Without a second’s hesitation, Zacchaeus opens his life to Christ, welcoming him “with delight.” Moreover, this scrappy tax collector who was despised by his neighbors, becomes the model disciple for us to emulate because he completes his acceptance of Jesus by vowing to give half of what he owns to the poor and to repay anyone he has cheated four times the amount he took from them. With Zacchaeus, the call to discipleship is followed by true conversion.
By contrast, today’s first reading addresses two early Christian communities, Sardis and Laodicea, that have “the reputation…of being alive,” but in reality, are dead. Yes, the gospel was preached to them and they momentarily accepted the faith; however, they soon drifted away from it into mediocrity and complacency. They are “comfortable Christians” who think all is well with them, but in fact they are more dead than alive because they never fully welcomed Jesus into their lives.
In today’s gospel, people were shocked that Jesus invited himself “to a sinner’s house as a guest.” But isn’t that the point? Isn’t each of us a “sinner’s house” Jesus wants to enter? That’s why the real tragedy is not that we are sinners, but that we could hear Jesus say, “Today salvation has come to this house,” and never once open the door.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor Emeritus of Theology and Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the Passionist family.