31st C Sun Ordinary Time
Wis 11:22–12:2; Ps 145:1-2,8-11,13-14; 2 Thes 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10
The story of Zacchaeus is like a da Vinci masterpiece or a Mozart symphony; because it’s deep in symbolism and yet it’s also open to a variety of interpretations. On the surface, we simply see a short, rich, greedy, tax collector, whose life is transformed and saved by Jesus. The moral of that simple story, as we heard from the Book of Wisdom, is that God loves ALL of His Creation, even sinners.
If we dig down, just one level deeper, we might discover that maybe this Zacchaeus really wasn’t that bad after all. Maybe he was just misjudged and misunderstood. You see, just because he was a tax collector, didn’t necessarily mean he was dishonest; even though that was the reputation of most tax collectors of his day. And the reason we might think this, is that Zacchaeus was exorbitantly defensive of his honesty. He went as far as offering double the customary repayment for malicious over-taxation. And that suggested that he really wasn’t guilty of dishonesty. For he would never had made such an over-generous offer otherwise. Thus, he was simply misjudged. And Jesus gave him the ultimate opportunity to redeem himself – in front of a crowd.
So the moral of the level-2 story, moves from God’s love of us, to our love of one another. Do we ever misjudge others based on their occupation, or skin color, or language, or religion? Do we love ALL life, more than ANY death? Or do we love “a lynching,” more than fair judgment and merciful forgiveness? Isn’t that what happened to Jesus? Is this Zacchaeus story just a prefiguring of what was to happen to Jesus by a prejudiced mob, who followed a bad leader? And what was Jesus willing to pay to prove HIS Lordship and our salvation? — That would be His Life!
On the next level, we find that just as Zacchaeus was short, so were the ancient Israelites. They were weak and small. They were hated by the Egyptians and, for that matter, the rest of the world. And yet, the Israelites were also stubborn, just like Zacchaeus. He wanted to see Jesus, and by golly, one way or another, he would. So he found a way, despite the crowds.
Did you ever want something so much, that it took all of your physical strength and mental creativity to get it? And when you finally did reach that goal, you found that you actually attained a whole lot more than you ever expected. This is what happened to Zacchaeus. All he wanted, was to SEE Jesus. He never imagined that he’d be invited to dine with Him. So, with all his physical strength and mental creativity, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a tree.
And like the “blood of lambs” on the wooden doorposts of the Israelites, who ran ahead of that crowd of Egyptians, to obediently follow God’s order; and like the Blood of Jesus on the wood of the cross, who ran ahead of the temple leaders and the crowd blindly following them, to obey His Father’s command; this little, despised, tax collector, Zacchaeus, hung his flesh and blood on the wood of a sycamore tree, that he might SEE and receive his own salvation. What are we willing to sacrifice to see Jesus? How creative can we be, to exit the crowds of the world and receive our own salvation?
Now there may be many, many more levels of depth to this story of Zacchaeus, but let’s just explore one level deeper. You see, in the very beginning of time, after God created the first man, Adam; and Adam had everything he could possibly need or want, including that “Tree of Everlasting Life”; there was one tree that God had warned Adam to avoid at ALL costs. And hanging from that tree was another being. He was small and despised, because his entire essence was comprised of greed, anger, envy and deception. And he was very cunning.
And Adam was deceived by the false beauty of this being. What looked like wealth and fame, and power and fun, led him to pluck the fruit of that tree. And with that first bite, what Adam ingested, instead of beauty, was HIS essence; the essence of Death. And Adam became lost! And that essence of death has been passed on from generation to generation, as we are well aware. And what we understand as life became a burden, with pain and suffering weighing us down and stealing our joy.
You see, Adam became bound to that tree, and all humanity with him, of whom Zacchaeus was our prototype. Small, despised and lonely, all Zacchaeus wanted was a glimpse. Yet Jesus said, “Zacchaeus come down quickly, and I will stay with YOU!” For ON that same tree, from which Adam plucked death and became lost, Jesus found this little, lost man, Zacchaeus, to pluck OFF that tree and Save with Life Forever, just as he does with each and every one of us.
All we need do now, is run from that crowd and seek Him. For He is here in the Scriptures, He is there in the Blessed Sacrament, and He is there in your neighbor’s heart. And when our eyes finally meet, we too will hear him call out to us, “Today, my beloved, I must stay in Your house.” Are we ready?