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
Often when I hear the Gospel story of Zacchaeus, I imagine Jesus calling him down from that tree out of pity, as if Jesus sees this little tax collector, perched in a tree like a child, almost falling out, trying to get a glimpse of the Christ. What Jesus sees is a foolish predicament for Zacchaeus to find himself. But I don’t think that is what Luke is trying to tell us at all in this passage. In fact, I think this is the wrong way to think of this story all together.
Jesus does not call to Zacchaeus,
Jesus does not call to me,
Jesus does not call to you or anybody else out of pity!
Pity is NOT part of Jesus’ vocabulary!
Zacchaeus reminds us today of two things: He reminds us to ask the questions who we are and whose we are, and he reminds us to show up.
First: Who is Zacchaeus? Well we get a superficial answer in the scriptures. In fact, I think Luke uses a physical, surface level description of Zacchaeus to highlight how people judged his inner thoughts. What Luke is doing by describing Zacchaeus as a person “short in stature” physically is demonstrating that he must also be short in character because he was a tax collector. See Luke knows we often judge a book by its cover. But he flips the script on us because, in this small package, we are reminded once again that with the faith of a mustard seed, we can move mountains.
Zacchaeus knows who he is, and therefore he knows who he is not. He is not his sin. He is not his lies. He is not his fears. He is not his doubts. Zacchaeus is a sinner, but that is NOT who he is. Zacchaeus, aware of his sinfulness, knows whose he is. He is created in the image and likeness of God; he is blessed with a dignity and worth that, since it was given by God, nobody or no one can take away; he is a descendant of Abraham, a beloved child of God: that’s who he belongs to.
Second: We need to show up. Knowing that he is a child of God, gifted with dignity and worth, and possessing a faith that can move mountains, we read in today’s scripture that Zacchaeus “was seeking to see who Jesus was.” Jesus was just passing by, doing what Jesus does along the way. But it was Zacchaeus who sought out the Lord in the first place. Zacchaeus is willing to do whatever it takes to get to know Jesus; he is willing to risk it all to get in right relationship with his Lord. He shows up. He runs ahead. He climbs a tree and literally will put himself out on a limb to be with Jesus.
So what about me…and you?
—Adam DeLeon, S.J. is a Jesuit scholastic studying theology in preparation for ordination at Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA.
For some strange reason, Lord, you depend upon me. What possible need could you have for my shoulder? Why should you lean on me? Yet you do just that. I am grateful. It is a challenge and a trust, an inspiration and a call to character. If you are willing to depend upon me, weak and clumsy as I am, I am eager not to fail you. Lean on me, dear Lord, at least pretend to find me a help. May your sweet pretense make me worthy of your very real trust.
—Daniel A. Lord, S.J.