November 3, 2019
XXXI Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, now coming to its end, has been studded by encounters with many diverse personages.
Also, today’s Gospel (Lk 19:1-10) relates an encounter, which is the last in this series: Jesus finds himself now in Jericho, the last stop before going up to the Holy City, and while passing through Jericho city he meets with Zacchaeus.
To understand something of this encounter, it helps if we read it in the light of another encounter that Jesus had, which occurred just a little earlier. It’s the encounter with the rich official.
The two meetings have many points in common.
In each case, we are dealing with a wealthy person: the official was very rich (Lk 18:23), while Zacchaeus was actually “a chief tax collector and a wealthy man” (Lk 19:2).
In both cases, there is a question, a desire, a search: the rich official asks Jesus about the subject of eternal life (Lk 18:18), while Zacchaeus climbs a tree attempting to see Him (Lk 19:3,4).
In both cases, one of their feelings is reported, which, this time, is the reverse: the rich official becomes “very sad” (Lk 18:23), while Zacchaeus is “full of joy” (Lk19:5).
Why? What’s happened to Zacchaeus that the rich official did not experience?
The difference lies in the fact that Zacchaeus has the experience of being sought.
First, he does everything to see Jesus: he runs ahead and, as he is small, he climbs a sycamore tree (Lk 19:4). But this is not the source of his joy. Joy comes when he discovers that the Master Who he wants to see is searching for him. Indeed, much more: He not only wants to see him but wants to go with him to his house (Lk 19:5).
Jesus looks for Zacchaeus in three ways, which are all contained in verse 5.
First, He looks at him, and then considers him, welcomes him in His own eyes. Jesus does not pass by without stopping to pay attention to this man who was looked upon disapprovingly by so many.
Then He speaks to him. Some verses later, all present will speak of him, but not with him. Zacchaeus was someone who was not easy to talk to, a man who kept at a distance. Jesus, however, turns directly to him, overcoming every barrier. Jesus turning to him speaks and shows that He knows him and calls him by name.
If, for the others, he is a sinner (Lk 19:7), for Jesus he is Zacchaeus, and a son of Abraham (Lk 19:9), or rather is an heir of the promise that is by grace.
Finally, He enters his house, in other words He shares his life, creates intimacy, becomes his friend.
Without this experience of being sought after, the life of faith is reduced to a solitary and sterile effort which begets the sadness we saw in the rich official, for whom leaving his riches is only a duty to grudgingly obey to feel alright.
Not so for Zacchaeus, in whom there is no moralism. Jesus does not ask him to stop stealing, to give his wealth to the poor. The change of life is the desire, the urgency that arises spontaneously in Zacchaeus when he feels noticed, known, called, considered worthy to receive the gift of Jesus’ presence, which is offered freely to him.
And this is done with joy and generates joy. It is this experience of joy and intimacy with the Lord, in a saving word, that will produce in Zacchaeus the desire for a change of life: “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.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Lk 19:8-9).