By Tom Quiner
Zacchaeus was a scumbag.
He wasn’t just a tax collector at the time of Christ, he was the chief tax collector. He collaborated with the Romans by becoming their tax collector, seizing money from his Jewish neighbors on behalf of their oppressors, and keeping a cut for himself.
A modern equivalent for a liberal would be a greedy capitalist who exploits the little guy so he can live in his fancy, gated community while the world falls apart around him.
A modern equivalent for a conservative might be a politician who seizes (taxes) money from the little guy and passes it onto their pals in the human abortion industry.
We read in Luke 19:1-10 that Jesus came to a town named Jericho. He simply intended to pass through. Because of his “celebrity,” a large crowd gathered when they heard he approached Jericho. Zacchaeus, the scumbag, wanted to see this amazing Jesus, but the dastardly tax collector was short in stature. The only way he could capture a glimpse of the Nazarene was to climb a sycamore tree.
Who knows how many people were in the crowd in Jericho? Was it a dozen … a hundred … more? Here’s what is interesting. Jesus honed in on the short guy in the tree. Even more, he honed in on the most despicable person in the crowd with these words:
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
Jesus was being very politically-incorrect by inviting Himself to stay with the #1 villain in the village. I’m sure the townspeople were scandalized.
It’s interesting what Jesus did NOT do. He didn’t call out Zacchaeus. He didn’t shout, “come down from that tree sinner!” Jesus did something different. He loved the man. He honored him by staying at his home.
Something amazing happened. Zacchaeus’ heart melted. Touched, he proclaimed:
“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.”
I love this scripture passage, which was the Sunday reading in the Catholic Church this weekend. It makes me think of Pope Francis’ recent controversial remarks. You recall how the New York Times (mis) characterized his remarks with this headline:
“Pope, Criticizing Narrow Focus, Calls for Church as ‘Home for All.’”
The media’s distortion of his remarks is not the point. What Jesus demonstrates in today’s gospel reading is that His Church IS a home for all. After all, he sought out Zacchaeus for conversion. After experiencing the power of Christ’s love, Zacchaeus repented. He became a new man.
Today’s Old Testament reading comes from Wisdom 11:22-12:2. It sets the stage for Zacchaeus with this beautiful insight:
But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
God is all about mercy.
I like the way that the Book of Wisdom points out that God never loathes something He has made. He didn’t loathe Zacchaeus.
He doesn’t loathe a mother who aborts her child.
He doesn’t loathe the father who forces his girl friend to abort her child.
He doesn’t loathe the human abortionist.
He doesn’t loathe people battling same-sex attractions.
Rather, He seeks them out. He asks us to seek them out in His name. He wants to use us and His Church to bring about conversion of the sinners. Conversion takes place when a heart falls in love with Christ.
I like the way Fr. Robert Barron kind of summarizes things: “We have been loved into existence by God.” He says God doesn’t love us for our wonderful qualities. Rather, we have wonderful qualities because God loves us.
The Son of God proclaims the significance of the conversion of sinners with His closing comment in today’s gospel reading:
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”