Today I want to share with you the thoughts and reflections of Fr. J.P. Earls, O.S.B. Sometimes the Gospel records for us someone who has an encounter with Our Lord and in every case it is an opportunity for us to desire that we have our own encounter with him. Think of “the woman at the well” or Peter, James, and John. In this case it is the diminutive Zacchaeus [yes, another tax collector—but in this case, a very blessed and lucky tax collector!]. I recommend paying special attention to Fr. Earls’ questioning about “what would we do?” if Jesus were coming down our street. —Msgr. Richard
Zacchaeus is short of stature but long on enthusiasm. He is a tax collector, an occupation that put him outside the pale of salvation for the religious Jew. Jesus, by reaching out in love to Zacchaeus, assures us that even if we are tax collectors, and highly successful ones at that (read, we’ve been taking kickbacks like crazy), we can still be confident of God’s love in Jesus Christ—if we really want it.
Yes, I know, you’re going to say “Oh, sure, Zacchaeus was so eager he climbed up in the tree to get a good look at Jesus, but it’s not his enthusiasm that saves him, it’s giving up his evil ways. The bottom line is always the same: if you want to get on Jesus’ good side, you have to give up your sinful practices, so Zacchaeus makes restitution for all of the double-ledger accounts he’s been handing in to the Romans, and gives half of his wealth to the poor.”
But here, I suggest, is the difference, Zacchaeus didn’t do all these things, and then Jesus says, “Now I can stay at your house.” Jesus looks up at this little guy hanging in the sycamore tree, and sees that it was a hunger for something completely new in his life, something completely different, that sent Zacchaeus scurrying up that tree, and, moreover, Jesus knows that He can fill that hungry spot in Zacchaeus’ heart. With what joy Jesus calls us to him, “Zacchaeus, come on down! I want to stay at your house.” It is Jesus who sends out this huge wave of love to Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus who responds to it. Maybe it is the first time in his life that he feels love accepting him, caressing his inmost soul, blessing the dark corners of his heart with a gentle but persistent light.
So today’s readings encourage us to depend on the generosity of God in Jesus Christ to straighten out our lives. If you’re not feeling the presence of Jesus in your hearts today, you might ask yourself, if Jesus were scheduled to come down your street at one o’clock this afternoon, would you be there to see him? Would you climb up a tree to get a better view? What would you do if He asked to come visit with you? Is He someone you could pour your heart out to? Would you fear condemnation from Him, or joyfully anticipate forgiveness.? Would you still fear giving up what you sense to be sinful in your life, or would you know, to the joyful depths of your God-beloved and Jesus-forgiven heart, that the love is more than enough for you?
Well, let me tell you, He’s already here. He wants to accept you as He accepted Zacchaeus. When you approach the altar to share in Jesus’ own hospitality meal, know that Zacchaeus was no closer to Jesus when he came down out of that tree than you will be when you take part in that meal. Come join the party. It’s going to last forever.
J.P. Earls, a monk and priest of St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota