Zacchaeus the Tax Collector

Gospel Luke 19:1-10

The lesson which we have just heard from the book of Wisdom should pull us up sharply and make us think of what we puny men are, and what God is. He tells us the whole universe, which to us is immense, is only like a grain of dust when compared to God. We know that this little planet of ours called earth is only like one grain of sand in the Sahara desert compared with the whole universe. Then, on this earth, the whole human race is, in size and bulk, only a tiny fraction of this planet. What are we then, in comparison with God?

Yet, we are something and something important, because our loving and caring God so willed. He loves all His creation. It was out of love for us that He created it. Man the highest of His earthly creatures, His masterpiece, is loved by God in a special personal way.

At the same time He knows and understands how fickle and faltering that love of ours can be. His infinite mercy is ever there at our disposal. When we sin, which we often do, His mercy does not let Him send the immediate punishment which we so richly deserve. He “overlooks the sins of men”, in other words, He restrains His justice “so that they may repent.” He gives us time, and plenty of time to realize how wrong we were, how ungrateful we were to Him who gave us all we have, and that realization of our unworthiness and wickedness would make us turn to Him and ask for pardon.

In the second reading Paul warns his community to beware of “false prophets who predict about the future judgement.” It is not for the Christians to look for times and signs and go about speculating but to use the time God has given to lead a life worthy of their call. We are advised rather to turn towards Jesus who is the ultimate judge over the living and the dead.

We have a very powerful Gospel today. If we feel that we’re spiritually searching for direction in life, today’s liturgy can speak to our hearts. We have today another example of Jesus’ interest in the conversion of sinners. All tax collectors had a bad reputation. (I am not sure about Sars!) They were extortionists and the Roman system of tax collecting encouraged injustice. This man Zacchaeus was the chief of the tax collectors of Jericho and probably more unjust than the others. He was not only short, but he was hated by almost everyone.

When Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was going to enter town he wanted to “see” Him, that was all. He wanted to “observe” Him. He did not want to be touched by Jesus, he did not want to be pulled, pushed, admonished or converted by Him. He wanted to “observe” only. He did not even want to be seen. And, therefore, before the street filled up, he climbed a tree, and there he sat on a branch, waiting and thinking – probably about his favourite subject – “money.” Unknown to him, the grace of God was working within him. He thought that he just wanted to see what Jesus looked like. Jesus knew already what Zacchaeus was like and intended to see him and save him from his downward rush after earthly wealth. He would offer him eternal riches. This is exactly what happened. Jesus entered the home and heart of Zacchaeus that day, and not only the home and heart of Zacchaeus, but of his whole household. From that day Jesus had devoted followers in Jericho, and Christianity had a strong foothold in that ancient city.

There were many other sinners in Jericho that day. In fact, it is most likely that the vast majority of the adult population were guilty of violating one or many of God’s commandments. So the question is, why did Zacchaeus get this great privilege and not the others? God alone knows the answer to this question. We can assume that the mercy of God and the grace of conversion were available to all of them. However, unlike Zacchaeus, many of them refused to accept God’s offer. Not to admit that we are sinners is a fundamental impediment to the working of the mercy and grace of God in our hearts. The second and more important impediment is to refuse to listen to the calls to repentance, which God so frequently sends out to us.  God wants all mankind, the whole human race to enjoy the eternal happiness of Heaven.  All the necessary means for the journey are at our disposal. The only ones who can fail are those who wander deliberately off the road and refuse to return to it when called.

When Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the tree, he almost fell off the tree and he joyfully received Jesus. He became so enthusiastic that even before Jesus had said anything he started to respond to him spontaneously- saying he would give half his wealth to the poor and pay back tenfold to anyone whom he had cheated.

Jesus looks for people in the trees. Jesus has trained His eyes to do it. He sees someone in need and invites them into a relationship. Today God wants to save you and me. Zacchaeus acts immediately without postponing. “He hurried down and welcomed Jesus.” So my sisters and brothers let me put the following questions to you:

  • Are you ready to meet the Lord and welcome Him joyfully?
  • Do you have a new transformed heart?
  • Are you ready to change your hearts to be converted?
  • Will you let Jesus say –“hurry, come down, I must stay at your house.”?

If your answers are yes to the above questions- you are on the right track- He will put you back once more on the straight road to Heaven. Today, salvation will come to you and to your house. You will become true sons and daughters of Abraham, true heirs to Heaven. Let us ask ourselves. Am I ready?  Do I have a new transformed heart?