If you know me well you know that I almost always have a song going through my head. And this whole week one of them has been a song we used to sing at St. Pat’s when I was in grade school: “There was a man in Jericho named Zacchaeus.” Perhaps you have your own friendly version of a Zacchaeus song that you learned as a kid. Songs like these might lead us to see Zacchaeus as a kind of comical character—scurrying up that tree to try to see Jesus; scurrying back down when Jesus calls him, perhaps all red-faced and out of breath.
But just like in our Gospel last week, with the parable about the tax collector’s prayer justifying him over the Pharisee, this episode would have left people unsettled, perhaps even more so because it was a real-life situation. Of all the people in the crowd, Jesus turns toward Zacchaeus—not just any tax collector, but a chief tax collector who had gotten quite rich off of this dubious profession. It’s to him that Jesus declares that “today I must stay at your house.” Of course, the people are floored. “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” Certainly there would have been someone more worthwhile. He’s certainly not someone you’d write friendly little songs about. But mercy, by definition, is treating someone with love, compassion, and forgiveness when it’s really undeserved. And Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy.
It’s been said that this passage about Jesus and Zacchaeus is a story of two looks/two glances. First there is Zacchaeus “seeking to see who Jesus was.” Obviously he had heard of Him. But what would have made him leave the comforts of his home, fight a crowd and run and climb a tree to see a stranger? There was something in life that Zacchaeus was missing out on. His great wealth (which, of course, was ill-gotten to begin with) would never get him what he was looking for. In the heart of every human being there is the longing for truth, goodness, and beauty. We can look to fulfill those longings in all sorts of ways with all sorts of things, but ultimately only the source of truth, goodness, and beauty will not fail to satisfy. And this Source came in Person walking right through Zacchaeus’ town.
In the Book of Wisdom we hear, “you (LORD) have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people's sins that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made… But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls…that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!” God had been working on Zacchaeus deep down, preparing him for this big moment. Zacchaeus was trying to see Jesus, but Jesus came and looked up at him, and with His loving and merciful gaze said, “[T]oday I must stay at your house.” And Zacchaeus was transformed. He came down to a new life. And while Jesus said He wanted to stay at his house, it was really this lost descendent of Abraham who had come home.
Brothers and sisters, in the midst of any brokenness, in the midst of any sin, in the midst of being lost in any way, Jesus says to us, “I want to come stay with you. I want to come be the Lord of your life.” When we’re ready for His gaze to meet our gaze, amazing things can happen, healing can happen, new life can happen.
Christ comes to dwell with us in His Word in Scripture, in His Body the Church, in the Sacraments: and in a special way in the Eucharist (the gift of His own Body and Blood). Christ comes to dwell with us, so that we can dwell with Him. All of these are God’s gracious actions. And so what is our response? Turning more and more each day to a life lived in love of God and love of neighbor; cooperating with that grace of God that St. Paul prays will make us steadfast in our daily living as we await the coming of Christ; searching for the goodness that God created in each person; reaching out to those who are lost and those who are poor (either materially or spiritually).
In our own life of prayer and outreach, we respond to God’s actions, to God’s creating presence, to God’s loving mercy, to God’s gift of redemption; we respond to God’s grace and blessings, to God’s call to holiness and to wholeness, to God’s promise of life eternal and that “today salvation has come to this house.” We encounter His Presence in a most special way here today, so that we too can then go in peace, glorifying the Lord by our life.
©2017 St. Peters Catholic Church Huron Ohio.
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