31st Sunday Ordinary Time
Year C

Q291: Is Zacchaeus trying to "buy" his way in to the Kingdom of God (Lk 19:1-10)?

I've often thought that this whole section of Luke's gospel (say, 18:9 - 19:10) could be called "The Pride of the Rich," or some such title. In that segment we hear the following stories: a self-righteous Pharisee tells God how much better he is than the tax collector; Jesus teaches about the need for childlike simplicity; a very rich official refuses to part with his possessions; Jesus uses the "camel through the eye of the needle" comparison about the difficulties the wealthy face; and finally, a rich sinner gets it right and repents (Zacchaeus).

The gospel today (Lk 19:1-10) is not just entertainment about a short fat bald man climbing a tree and later trying to "buy" his salvation. Rather, it is about the radical changes that everyone must make when Jesus issues an invitation. Zacchaeus was also a very rich man and a hated tax collector, a collaborator with the occupying Roman empire. And yet, this is the man that Jesus said he was going to dine with. Even more surprising, it was Jesus who initiated the contact. We know that such an action would have been unthinkable for a Pharisee, and indeed they all "grumbled."

Jesus called Zacchaeus a "descendant of Abraham" (19:9), which both restored the dignity of true community identity for this tax collector, and which indicated that all were sinners, not just Zacchaeus. So that there is no mistake, Jesus concludes "the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost" (19:10). In Luke's gospel, Jesus is constantly breaking down barriers which prevent the exchange of love and compassion. All he asks of us is that we allow him to come into our homes and hearts, and spend some time with him. Are we, like Zacchaeus, open enough to want to "see" Jesus, and to "do" something to facilitate that encounter?

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! A "forgiven" sinner responds by welcoming the love that is offered, and returning that love (CCC #2712); prayer is the normal avenue of exchange. Injustice requires reparation, which Jesus blessed in today's story (CCC #2412). Wealth can become a form of slavery to sin, unless it is used according to God's will (CCC #549).

Q448: Is Zacchaeus in today’s gospel (Luke 19:1-10) supposed to be a role model of some sort for Catholics?

There is an old Christian legend (whose source I have been unable able to find) that tells how Zacchaeus, every day after his encounter with Jesus, would take a bucket of water and pour it on the base of that famous tree in Jericho. It had now become a sacred sign to him, a place of sacred encounter in that furnace-like desert, and so in deep gratitude he reverenced that sacred location every day thereafter.

Have you ever “gone out on a limb” for something or someone? Or as we used to say when I was growing up in rural Nebraska, have you ever “bet the farm” on a specific belief? Zacchaeus did that when he was converted on his first encounter with Jesus. Not only did he believe in Jesus, he now made four-fold restitution because of that belief, and also gave half of his possessions to the poor. He risked everything, including his future income stream (which now would undoubtedly dwindle considerably). His actions would surely qualify as a model to follow.

I presume that you are a baptized Christian, a believer, otherwise you would not be reading this article. You have been given the precious gift of God’s Presence dwelling right within you! You don’t have to go out and climb a tree; all you have to do is accept the gift; look within, and then “bet the farm” on what you believe. That means you are called to “risk everything” to become His disciple, and to live as he wants you to live, to become more fully the image you were created to be – His image!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus could be summed up this way: “I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, do penance, and amend my life. Amen!” The Sacrament of Penance is a “place” where Jesus makes available to Catholics his call to conversion – thus it is called the sacrament of conversion (CCC #1423). Get out of your tree, your stubborn way of life, and “bet the farm” that this is also a sacrament of forgiveness and reconciliation (CCC #1424)! Allow salvation to come to your “house”!

You Have Mercy on All Because You Love All That You Have created

The Book of Wisdom reminds us that all God's creation is good. Things become evil only when used in ways contrary to God's intent. St. Paul reminds us that it is God's gift that enables us to carry out our good intentions and to use his creation in accord with God's will. Finally, St. Luke tells us that even the sinner, the weak and despised has value in God's sight and can respond to his call.

Lord, help us to see the goodness in everyone you have created. Help us to use your gifts in the way you intended and help us to see and welcome the poor, the despised, even sinners as your sons and daughters, the work of your hands.