Deacon Tony’s homily and reflections on the Gospel for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary time (Luke 19:1-10), on Zacchaeus' encounter with Jesus.
Today’s Gospel hits home for those of us who are vertically challenged. It’s a somewhat humorous story of a short man, who climbs a tree in order to see Jesus pass by. It could be that Zacchaeus was good at climbing trees because he practiced while running away from bullies.
This event takes place in Jericho, the oldest city in the world. Herod the Great had been appointed “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate. He was the absolute ruler over Jericho, after the suicide death of his close friends Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Mark Antony had given Jericho to Cleopatra as a gift.
In this story we hear about a man, an encounter, and a transformation.
Who is this man Zacchaeus? We know that he is the Chief tax collector for Jericho, in the days of Herod Antipas, king of the Jews and tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, in the days of our Lord. Zacchaeus, the Chief tax collector would pay taxes up-front to the Romans for a region assigned to him. He then would hire other men as tax collectors to extort high tariffs from the community, making a handsome profit. This meant that Zacchaeus, was a wealthy men, member of the upper 1% of his society; think of Warren Buffet, or Michael Bloomberg. Presumably with connections to the ruling class; in those days with low friends in high places.
As Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem; the crowds follow him to listen to him teach. Zacchaeus must have heard that the Master was coming and decided to “seek Jesus and see who Jesus was.” It says in the Gospel that “… he could not see him because of the crowd.”
Zacchaeus, knows who he is and what he does for a living. He was shrewd businessman going about his business. Perhaps not really mindful or ignoring the consequences of his dealing. Zacchaeus seems open minded to this young Rabbi. It says that he could not see Jesus because of the crowd, so he actively looks for Jesus. The lesson here appears to be that as long as we see ourselves with the eyes of others, we cannot see what God sees. If we cannot see beyond the crowd, we cannot see Jesus. When we let others tell us who we are, how we behave, our faults and failures; we cannot see Jesus, we cannot see what Jesus sees. Psalm 139 says: “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” The Psalm ends saying: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Zacchaeus made a decision. He wanted an encounter with our Lord. He climbs a tree, a sycamore tree; a symbol of a place in our own lives where we are able to have a clear vision of our Savior. When we have a clear vision of the Savior, we have a clear vision of our salvation, we know where we need to go.
This brings us to the encounter. Zacchaeus was not only seeking Jesus; he was actively looking for Jesus. He took action. When we are opened to the possibility of an encounter with our Lord, we’re ready to leave everything behind. Our current state of affairs, becomes our past.
Isn’t amazing how we are told that “[Jesus] was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Zacchaeus searched, Jesus reached out, calling him by name. How did our Lord know his name? In Isaiah 46: 1 the prophet writes: “Before birth the LORD called me, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” He gave us, and called us by our names, he designated each and every one of us for a special task and mission. When we are open to God’s call, the Lord wants to dwell in our house, and guide our lives. Not only does he want to stay in our house, he must stay with us. “Quickly,” he says; there is a sense of urgency here. He says I must stay, I found you and I’m not leaving you.
The encounter leads to the transformation. Once Zacchaeus encounters our Lord, he is full of joy, and ready to drastically change his lifestyle. Zacchaeus knows Psalm 16:11: “You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence.” This is the encounter he is looking for.
When we encounter Christ, we become what we are created to be. Our Church teaches us that because of Christ’s incarnation, we have a revelation of ourselves, of who we are and what we are called to be. (Gadium et Spes #22)
Transformation begins with an encounter with Christ, which brings us to the realization that we are forgiven sinners. Transformation begins when we come down from the high perch of our stubborn pride that separates us from God. When we accept Christ’s loving mercy, we can be certain that “Today salvation has come…” What was true for Zacchaeus was true for the thief on the cross next to Christ at Calvary, Christ said to him “Today you will be in paradise.” This is true for us today, for salvation has come “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
A man, an encounter, and a transformation. Where are we in this story? Are ready for our encounter with Jesus? Are we ready to be transformed? May we joyfully seek the living Christ, present with us today. He calls us by name and invites us to break bread with him in the Eucharist. +
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