Christ Calling Zacchaeus, Palma 1575, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK.
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Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Luke 19:5.
Have you noticed that wherever Pope Francis goes, there is a forest of cell (mobile) phones recording the magic moment, perhaps even the ultimate honor of a selfie with him? Well the people furthest away from the pope might well be tempted to climb a convenient sycamore tree, if available, to assure themselves of getting some sort of look at him. That’s what poor pint-sized (“he was short in stature” we are assured) Zacchaeus thought and up he went. Well he got more than he bargained for, even more than whatever the ancient equivalent of a selfie was; here Jesus not only noticed him, not only called him by name but announced he would be glad to go to dinner with him! Imagine Pope Francis saying that to you! Yet today’s gospel assures us that that is exactly what happened. The story is so sharp, surprising, with details such as the exact tree climbed and by a man who was not tall, that I think it must assuredly have come from a real life event in Jesus’ ministry. And another thought. Remember last week’s gospel of the Pharisee who was so full of his own goodness compared to everyone else? Well today here is Zacchaeus, somewhat shady in his dealings apparently, an outcast as he was a tax collector and therefore a collaborator with the hated pagan Roman occupying force, wealthy as a consequence and therefore hated by everybody. Yet he wanted to see who this traveling holy man was…. Why? Perhaps that’s what Jesus thought, and hence his surprising and controversial statement that he would eat with this man, thereby shocking the local Jewish community. And sure enough, Zacchaeus, clearly moved by the presence of goodness and grace, the presence of God, declares his reformation in the presence of everyone. No more swindling or pressure and much help to those who have nothing. The exact type of person that Jesus came to call to goodness.
Comparing last week’s Pharisee and today’s tax collector is interesting. Last week we heard about a man who was utterly assured of his own goodness, so assured that he seemed to be praying about and to himself! There did not seem to be too much room for God in his thinking. We all have some form of weakness, sinfulness, bad attitude or whatever which flies in the face of the God of love. Some are better than others at dealing with such evil, and some deny they have any weakness at all. Truly good people constantly check themselves to make sure they have not been guilty of such sin, and will readily confess it and try to make amends. They are open to improvement, fully aware they are not perfect. Zacchaeus seems to have been such a one as that. It needed a shove from Jesus, as it were, for him to become aware of his failings, and the presence and strength of God to help him make amends. He was lucky that the Lord passed by; but we have the Lord with us always, and especially when we are at his table, at his feast. In our case, Jesus invites us to dine with him! What a glorious reversal of today’s gospel story. We are so privileged and fortunate to have the Lord wait for us, to be with us especially on Sunday, that we have no excuse for straying from his presence, from his message. And we are able to go way beyond a selfie with the Lord; we actually incorporate the Lord into ourselves and become Christ to the world by virtue of our communion with him. No sycamore trees are necessary, no cell phones or mobile devices needed; we have it all because, being Christian, the Lord dwells within us, and is seen by all in the way we interact with others, how we deal with others, especially those who have little or nothing, how we act and talk says it all. Thank you Lord.
The Last Supper, Tintoretto 1566, Church of San Trovaso, Venice, Italy.
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