He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.
When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
There are a couple of interesting points to consider in today’s gospel story about Zaccheus. For one, it is surprising that Jesus is not primarily interested in sin, but in the effects that sin has on the sinner and those around the sinner. Zaccheus is a tax collector who extorts money from his own people, thereby making financially vulnerable people even poorer. They understandably ostracize him and his whole household in return. Thus Zaccheus becomes isolated and his neighbors are more defenseless as a result of his sin.
But Jesus is not afraid of Zaccheus’ sinfulness; Jesus is not chastising Zaccheus for greed or treachery. What Jesus does immediately is to heal the corrosive effects of sin. He dines with Zaccheus, thereby breaking the social quarantine he brought upon himself. Bursting with gratitude in return, Zaccheus promises to pay back what he has stolen and then care for the poor. Not only does Jesus’ presence blot out the sin, his willingness to meet with Zaccheus secured greater care for the vulnerable who previously had their hard-earned money wrested from them by Zaccheus. Jesus turned their enemy into their caretaker!
And yet Jesus did not tell Zaccheus to follow him like he did another tax collector, Matthew. Why? Perhaps Jesus wanted Zaccheus to live his converted life where he was because it was for the greater common good. Presumably Matthew was called to follow Jesus more radically for the same greater good.
Young men asking whether they might be called to become Jesuits often mention that it is daunting to accept a vocation to the priesthood because it is such a holy calling. While true of any calling from God, the reality is that there is nothing holier than being who God makes each one of us to be. The first step to cleansing the effects of sin from life is to invite Jesus to stay with you. Out of gratitude for his presence, your heart will tell you what you should do as Jesus’ friend.
—Fr. Jim Prehn, SJ, is Vocation Director for the Chicago-Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus. Learn more about the Jesuits at www.thinkjesuit.org
Empty our hands of the barnacles of success.
Empty our minds of all arrogant thought.
Empty our hearts of all false affection.
Fill our hands with the wounds of service.
Fill our minds with the vision of Your beauty.
Fill our hearts with holy tears of peace.
Christ our King,
Renew us with that fire of faith
that attracts companions for the journey.
Bless us with communities of leadership
that reflect the joy of service.
Send us generous young people for ministry
and service in the Church.
Help us find our place that together we may
labor in Your vineyard.
—Fr. J. Michael Sparough, S.J., Prayer to Serve God’s People