October 30, 2016

XXXI Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Zacchaeus, “sought to see Jesus” is mentioned twice in verses 3 and 4, in Chapter 19 of the Gospel of St. Luke. He is moved by a desire, or perhaps by simple curiosity, that sets him on the way, and is driven to find him.

Certainly the reversal that happened was unexpected. The text simply says that he wanted to see who Jesus was (v. 3), and he surely never thought that he would welcome Jesus in his house.

And much more, a number of obstacles stood in the way of this meeting that made it almost impossible: for Zacchaeus was small in stature, he was a public sinner (“chief tax collector” v. 2), and he was rich, and almost certain had unjustly acquired wealth.

Everyone present grumbled, and scandalized at seeing Jesus in the house of Zacchaeus ( “he entered the house of a sinner”, v. 7), most likely Zacchaeus himself thought the same. He knows he is not worthy, he does not have “the right”.

In the Gospel, it often happens that those who want to meet Jesus face obstacles that can be of different circumstances: moral nature (for a sinner, like the prostitute in Luke 7:36-50), ritual character (the impure stand at a distance and avoid any contact, cf. Lk 7, 12ss), or in relation to a situation we find ourselves in, (when there are too many people and it is not possible to come within reach or move closer; cf. Luke 8, 44 ).

Well, Zacchaeus has all these impediments, and for all these reasons, the encounter with Jesus seems highly impossible.

Instead the meeting happens, right there, in the midst of all the obstacles; right there where it seems impossible.

It takes place not because Zacchaeus has a conversion but simply because Jesus wants it, and invites himself.

Often in the Gospels we find Jesus at the table with someone, and only the Pharisees invite him to dine (Lk 7,36; 11,37; 14,1 …), only they are considered worthy to do so. But with everyone else (those who would never be allowed to invite him), Jesus takes the initiative and enters their homes.

Jesus enters the house of Zacchaeus not because he is worthy, but because Jesus wanted to, and because he “has come to seek and to save what was lost” (v. 10): The word “seek” is used twice in this passage of the Gospel, the first for Zacchaeus and the other is about Jesus.

It seems to be that the chief tax collector seeks the master, but it is actually the opposite.

But if Zacchaeus seeks only to see Jesus, Jesus is not content just to see and meet Zacchaeus, on the street. He wants to go into his house, to enter with him into a life of intimacy.

Then, thinking of ourselves, perhaps we recognize that sometimes our desire for relationship with the Lord stops at some point, and we do not yearn for more. We do not dare hope that the Lord should come into our house, into the depths of our lives, that we be loved and immersed in his unconditional love. The Lord takes the initiative to love us first.

All these are beyond our fragile hope. Instead, the Lord goes beyond, goes right to us and gives us His mercy. His desire for our wellbeing is endless.

And if we do not go “beyond”, perhaps it is also because we know – and fear- that this encounter with the Lord is truly life-changing.

How was the change in Zacchaeus, he who stood up and said to the Lord: “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 “(v. 8). Zacchaeus, amazed at the love that moved him, enters a completely new perspective of life, with the vision of reciprocating and sharing, a pact of solidarity: he really understood everything.

What he freely received, he freely shares, repaying more than what he owed, adding to the essence and beauty of the gift.

This is a source of joy. It is interesting that a few verses earlier (Lk 18:18 – 23), Luke narrates the encounter of Jesus with another rich and notable man. But he, after hearing the “good teacher”, walks away “very sad.” The similarity and contrast with Zacchaeus, who is “full of joy” (Lk 19:6) is inevitable.

This makes us say that the problem is not so much the wealth, but the human heart, which can cling to possessions and closed to the gift of a greater good. It can have the illusion of being satisfied for the moment or can marvel at the joy of giving.

+ Pierbattista

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