Like so many passages of Sacred Scripture, the story of Zacchaeus that we read in today’s Gospel seems simple and straightforward. When we begin to look deeper, however, we realize that this passage has a lot to teach us about our relationship with God, how we are called to approach him, and what God can do for us.
This Gospel passage begins with a man, Zacchaeus, who wants to see Jesus, but cannot see him through the crowds, because he is short. What is a man to do? The simple answer would seem to be what so many of my friends have done at concerts: force his way through the crowd, to get to the front. This likely would not end well for Zacchaeus, though- since Luke tells us that he was a chief tax collector and was not well liked by the people. So instead, Zacchaeus approaches the situation as a child might, and climbs a tree to get a better view of Jesus.
It is this childlike curiosity that causes Jesus to take note of Zacchaeus and enables Jesus to call to him. Jesus, recognizing the desire present in Zacchaeus’ heart, insists on staying at his house, even though the rest of the town considers him a sinner. It is here, in this encounter with Jesus, the Son of God, that a radical transformation takes place in the life of Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus, standing before Jesus, recognizes the error of his past ways, and exhibits a desire to make things right. He immediately vows to give half of his possessions to the poor, and to pay back those he has defrauded four times over. In response to this, Jesus declares that “Salvation has come to this house,” because this son of Abraham has turned from his sinful ways. I can only imagine that these words were very reassuring to Zacchaeus!
It is what Jesus says next, though, that has great bearing on our own lives. Jesus tells us that “The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” He did not come for the powerful, or the ones who have everything figured out. Rather, he came for the poor, the weak, the sinner, and those on the margins of society, who are often forgotten. These words give us hope, because they remind us that no matter how far we have strayed, or how much we struggle with our own sinfulness, Jesus desires to seek us out and lead us to salvation. Our challenge, just like Zacchaeus, is to approach Jesus with a spirit of humility and curiosity, so that we can allow him to be at work in our lives.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Steven Huber, CSB