Wis 11:22-12:2; 2 Thes 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10
Gerry went to confession and told the priest he’d taken bits of wood from work.
The priest said “How much?”
Gerry replied, “Not much, Father, just enough to make a garage at the back of the house.”
“Now, Gerry you know that’s not right and for your penance I want you to make the Stations of the Cross.”
“What size do you want them, Father, so as I get the right wood?”
(The story is from More Quotes and Anecdotes by Anthony P. Castle)
It is quite ironic that the name Zacchaeus in Hebrew means one who is just or clean. Before he met Jesus, the Zacchaeus that we know in the gospel had no moral integrity. He was a chief tax collector who enriched himself through anomalous means.
Zacchaeus belonged to the higher echelon of society. Yet, he was unhappy for he had chosen a life that made him an outcast, an enemy of his own people. During the time of Jesus, tax collectors were employed by the pagan Roman occupiers and, ordinarily, they made money through the large interests that they imposed on the working people. It was understandable that the Jews would look at tax collectors with disgust and anger.
The gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was seeking to see Jesus whom he heard would pass their place that day. Perhaps he was one of those people whose hearts were restless in search of something genuine and meaningful. He might have realized that wealth could not satisfy him or make him happy. Providentially, the Spirit was silently leading Zacchaeus to Jesus.
It was not easy for Zacchaeus to see Jesus. We are told that the crowd was blocking his sight because he was small in stature. Perhaps, this was the gospel’s way of expressing the awkwardness of Zacchaeus to join the crowd in welcoming Jesus given his bad public reputation. To solve his dilemma, Zacchaeus climbed up a tree which did not only make him see the Lord but also made Jesus find him.
The conversion of Zacchaeus was initiated by Jesus who invited him to come down from a high, embarrassing position. Commentators would interpret it as an invitation for Zacchaeus to leave his place of corrupted power and dishonest wealth. In a way, the Lord called him to come down to earth, to enter into contact with reality, with the people whose poverty he had taken advantage of.
Zacchaeus responded beautifully well: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” Notice how Zacchaeus suddenly recognized the poor and how he desired to make good reparations. Bible scholars tell us that Jewish Law ruled that if voluntary confession was made and voluntary restitution offered, only the value of the original goods stolen had to be paid, plus one-fifth (Lev 6:5). Zacchaeus manifested his sincerity by intending to give back more than what the law demanded.
A writer recalled how a rich young man failed to become a disciple of Jesus despite living a clean life. Zacchaeus led an immoral life but received salvation because he was willing to leave everything for Jesus, something that the young man refused to do.
The conversion-experience of Zacchaeus inspires us to do at least three things:
First is to find peace with our Creator. St. Augustine reminded us that we are made for God and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. Zacchaeus knew this by experience. He found real joy only when he received the Lord Jesus in his life. May we likewise find our way to meet Jesus who also is constantly seeking for us!
Second is to acknowledge humbly our faults and ask for mercy and forgiveness. Sometimes we like to blame others for our wrongdoings. Other times we minimize the gravity of our sins or justify them with trivial excuses. Let us emulate the example of Zacchaeus who confessed his crime, accepted responsibility and showed remorse in the presence of Jesus. Saint Augustine once said: “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”
And third is to make sincere reparations for whatever injuries we have committed against others. Most of our sins have social implications. We offend others by taking advantage of their miserable situations, or by taking something that rightfully belongs to others, or by destroying another person’s name. We also harm others by living scandalously or by giving bad examples. If conditions would allow it, let us try to restore whatever damage we caused in other people’s lives.