This weekend is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. You can find the readings here. We continue the themes from last Sunday: God’s attitude towards the sinner and the social outcast. Today’s reflection comes from the great Jesuit site Living Space. I encourage you to read the entire reflection here but set forth below is an extended excerpt:
“Imagine Zacchaeus’ surprise when Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” What wonderful words for Zacchaeus to hear! How wonderful when Jesus says them to us! Yet at every Eucharist he makes his invitation at communion. But at many other times too he wishes to enter into our lives. The Book of Revelation has Jesus in a beautiful image: “I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into his house and eat with him and he will eat with me” (Rev 3:20). Are our doors always open and ready to offer him hospitality?
Zacchaeus has no hesitation. He climbs down quickly, delighted to welcome Jesus into his house. The reaction of the crowd, however, is something else. They are deeply shocked and scandalised. “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Of all the people in Jericho, Jesus picks the house of possibly the most obnoxious and detested person in the town.
It is not the first time this charge was made about Jesus. On another occasion the Pharisees said, “He mixes with sinners and tax collectors and even eats with them.” Of course, they do not understand Jesus’ point of view. There was no need for him to go to the houses of the good. It was those who were far from God that he went looking for. “People who are well do not need a doctor but only those who are sick. I have not come to call the respectable people but the outcasts” (Mark 2:17)
The remarks of the crowd are seen to be those of religious bigots and hypocrites who put themselves on a higher moral plane than others. To be honest, this is something we have all been guilty of at one time or another.
There are two interpretations of what follows, depending on how one reads the original text. “Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord…” He is standing, the position of one who is confident he is accepted by his Lord. It reminds one of a saying in the early Church: “The one who is risen stands.”
Our translation from the Greek goes on: “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.” This implies that Zacchaeus, because of his encounter with Jesus, has undergone a radical conversion. He will give up his corrupt and rapacious ways. He will share his wealth with the poor and will make restitution to those he has cheated.
All this is in striking comparison to another rich man, an apparently very good man. He asked Jesus what he should do “to gain eternal life”. Jesus’ answer was, “Keep the commandments, the laws of God’s people.” “I have done that all my life,” says the rich man. “Then,” says Jesus, “there is just one more thing. Share what you have with the poor and then come and follow me.” And this very religious, very pious man, went away sad-faced “because he had many possessions” and could not let go of them.
Here, though, we have another rich man, apparently far from being religious or pious, a sinner in the eyes of the public, giving away half of his wealth. He will become a disciple. He has the necessary qualifications.
There is, however, another way of reading the text which seems closer to the original text of Luke. In this interpretation, Zacchaeus speaks in the present tense: “Half of my possessions I give (Greek,didomi, didwmi, present tense: ‘I give’ or ‘I am giving’) to the poor; and if I find I have taken more than I should, I pay back (apodidomi, apwdidwmi, ‘I give back’) fourfold.”
In other words, although he is a tax collector and apparently rich, he is, in fact, a very good man. Jesus recognised that when he invited himself into Zacchaeus’s house. The crowd, however, judged Zacchaeus simply by his profession. He is a tax collector,therefore he is an evil and corrupt man. And he was treated as an outcast not to be approached by any decent person. A perfect example of stereotyping and of judging people’s ‘holiness’ by their external observance of religious ritual.
But Jesus always sees beyond the external to the potential inside. He praises the repentant tax collector in last week’s Gospel over against the proud and arrogant Pharisee. Today he praises a tax collector whom he knows to be a good and generous person. He sees a unique individual and not just a stereotype.
How often are blinded by the stereotype of a person’s profession, or race, or religion and fail to see the unique individual inside? A policeman, a truck driver (a hard-drinking womanizing redneck), a single mother, a recovering alcoholic, a homosexual…?”