The story of Zacchaeus is our story. Whether we are aware of it or not, God is always calling to us; speaking to us in our hearts, drawing us into an ever closer relationship with him through his Son, Jesus Christ. “For you (God) love all things that exist and detest none of the things you have made, for you would not have made anything if you hated it.” So it is with Zacchaeus, a beloved child of God, being called into a closer relationship with God through his encounter with Jesus.
A key to an understanding of the story of Zacchaeus can be found in today’s First Reading from the Book of Wisdom. “But you are merciful to all, for you can do all things, and you overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent.”
“You overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent.” God’s mercy and love begins before we repent. His forgiveness is not conditional upon our repentance. He clears the pathway for our repentance by His love.
Zacchaeus was considered by the people to be a public sinner. As a tax collector, a collaborator with the Roman oppressors, he was judged to be a traitor to the people. While Zacchaeus was a rich man, because he had others doing is bidding and subject to his direction, he was an outcast among his own people. I would think that the Romans only thought well of him when he paid the tribute they demanded. All in all, Zacchaeus was a lonely man with few friends and they would only be people like him – tax collectors - public sinners, outcasts from society – shunned by all the people.
Now, we have heard the story of Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus on a road in Jericho:
- How he was eager to see Jesus,
- How he climbed a tree because he was so short,
- How Jesus stopped and called Zacchaeus to come down and
- How Jesus told him that he must stay at his house.
Do we see how God was working on Zacchaeus through all this, even before Jesus came to Jericho – when word of Jesus reached Zacchaeus’ hearing and touched his heart?
Something stirred in Zacchaeus’ heart to want to see Jesus even at the risk of scorn and abuse from the people in the crowded street. The call to see this Jesus of whom he had heard so much, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, was so strong that Zacchaeus made the effort, dressed in his fine clothes, to climb a tree, a most undignified activity for a rich man and most likely not a young man, to do. Zacchaeus makes an extraordinary effort to see Jesus. He may not have realized that it was God’s calling out to him in his heart that made him go to such a great effort.
Jesus calls Zacchaeus out of the tree – to come down from his isolated perch. “Zacchaeus hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today” Jesus manifests God’s call to Zacchaeus. He calls him to not delay, but to hurry and allow God to dwell within him. God has overlooked the sins of Zacchaeus; telling him that he must stay within his house – dwell within his heart.
Zacchaeus is forgiven his sins even before he repents - not on condition of his repentance. He is moved by God’s love and mercy that he vows to give to the poor and repay four-fold to anyone who claims to have been defrauded by him, - not just for this one time, but for all time going forward.
Jesus declares that salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus; this son of Abraham, for this sinner has now heeded the call of God, amended his life and returned to live in God’s love forever. The story of Zacchaeus is our story.
- We are Zacchaeus – for God is calling to us constantly, in our hearts – drawing us into an encounter with Jesus where we too are forgiven before we repent because God loves us and overlooks our sins: We are His creation which is always good
- We are Zacchaeus when, we go to Jesus, hurrying to join Him and allow Him to stay in our house and change our lives
- We are Zacchaeus when we repent our sins; vowing to amend our life - to live in right relationship with one another, caring, loving and receiving one another as we are embraced by God.
Deacon Don Ron