November 4, 2007
ORDINARY 31 (C)
The Son of Man has come to seek & to save what was lost. – Luke 19: 10
There is irony here: the name Zaccheus means “the righteous or pure one.” As a tax collector for the Romans, he was viewed by his fellow Jews as a traitor, & he made his living by extortion. Finally, he must have been good at it for he was rich to boot. But there was something about this Jesus that intrigued him. Who knows what stories he had heard, but apparently he sensed that here was someone he needed to know more about. Something was missing in his life & this Jesus seemed to offer a clue as to what that was.
But the crowd got in the way. How often that is the case! Peer pressure & the expectations of those we have to deal with – be it at home or at work – can get in the way of trying to get to know our Lord. Yet Zaccheus was not to be deterred. He had to climb higher to get the glimpse he wanted. Where there is a will there is a way, but too many of us are lazy or indifferent.
For those who take the initiative, however, the effort is worth it. Grace is always waiting & watching, & when the situation presents itself, our Lord doesn’t hesitate: “Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” The crowd, of course, disapproves, taking this to mean that Jesus is condoning sin; but that misses the point. His presence in the home of Zaccheus is to be a catalyst for conversion, not to approve Roman law & Jewish tax-collecting. Zaccheus is to be put back in touch with God, & his reaction is an indication of the abundant quality of his repentance.
Notice that he gives away & repays more than is required by law. This is to be a happy meeting of sinner & Savior. He welcomes Jesus into his house with joy. Repentance is a joyous affair, because it makes it possible for us to discover our true selves. He is smiling as he gives away his ill-gotten gains.
Abraham was a rich & generous man, & now Zaccheus has become his son, not because he has inherited his blood, but because he shares his spirit. The tight-fisted, cold, exploiter of persons was transformed into a kind, generous, compassionate, warm human being – because he had allowed the well-spring of God’s grace to surface. He is not unlike the character of Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, only here it is not fiction.
Not everyone gets the encouragement & opportunity to do something positively productive. But once they do get a taste of it, they will not want to go back to something less. In the presence & love showered on us by Christ, people discover what they were made for; & since what they were made for is so much better than what they were caught in, they welcome it with joy.
This is why the bottom line of the Christian experience is joy, & it isn’t something that circumstances can take away from us. If our faith is not characterized by this deep, abiding joy something is wrong. This doesn’t mean we go around happy all the time. Every life has its excruciatingly painful moments. It does mean that such experiences do not have the last word. That’s the difference that grace can make in our lives. AMEN!