“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). This comes at the end of one of my favorite passages in the gospels. In it we meet the almost comical character of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. He hears that Jesus is nearby and he wishes to see this man whose name had been on everybody’s tongues. But because he is short in stature, when he goes to see Jesus, he cannot see over the crowds. So he climbs a tree.
We can believe that there was something going on in Zacchaeus’ interior life that caused this excited behavior on his part. Maybe he had overheard others talking about this Jesus and the many things he had been doing. Maybe what he had heard about Jesus had caused him to begin to struggle with his own conscience. Maybe he could not articulate it as yet, but there was something about this Jesus that profoundly moved his heart. Jesus saw him in the tree and he knew his heart and his need. That’s why he acknowledged him. That’s why he said to him: “Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (verse 5).
Now, imagine Zacchaeus’ surprise at that. His only intention at the moment was to get a look at this wonder worker he had been hearing so much about. But Jesus looked up at him and acknowledged him, indeed, spoke to him directly. And not just that; he asked to stay at Zacchaeus’ house. Now, Zacchaeus was not naive as to how he was known and seen in the town by his fellow Jews. He knew that, like all tax collectors, he was despised and mistrusted by them and that they considered him a great sinner because of his work. We can also imagine that maybe some of the accusations against tax collectors could have actually applied to him. We can imagine, too, that his own conscience had been burning within him and that he had been experiencing a growing awareness within himself of a deep need for forgiveness; that he wanted to be happier, to live a better life. This is what Jesus responded to in Zacchaeus. When Zacchaeus heard Jesus’ words his heart must have lept with joy.
HIs response to Jesus’ invitation is instantaneous and complete. His conversion strikes him like a bolt of lightning. When he comes down and stands before Jesus, he says: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (verse 8). In this statement he has openly repented and expressed his joyful willingness to do penance for anything he may have done wrong. He gives up his old ways and enters a whole new life because of Jesus’ simple recognition of him. He gives his whole heart to Jesus and responds with enthusiastic joy. Zacchaeus is us! We have sinned, yet Jesus calls to us, as he did to Zacchaeus, and asks us if he can enter the house of our own hearts every day. His invitation is rooted in his love for us and his desire that we turn away from the practices and habits that we have developed in our lives that separate us from him and from one another. Do we see Jesus in the way that Zacchaeus does? Do we accept Jesus’ request to come into the home of our own hearts in the same way that Zacchaeus welcomes him into his home for the night? Do we see our own sinful behaviors and feel the deep need to be healed of them? Jesus is looking at us now, in this moment, just as he looked at Zacchaeus, and he is calling us to come down from the false perches of our egos and follow him. The truth is that our happiness, both here and now and in eternity, depends entirely on our response.
Lord, You alone are the source of eternal life. Help us to see the false promises of this world for what they are. Our salvation is not in money, or fame, or power, but in loving you above all things and our neighbors as ourselves. Like Zacchaeus, we come to you in our need believing in your infinite love and your generous forgiveness. Help us to say to you, “Yes, Lord. Come and stay in my house today, and every day yet to come.” We pray in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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