2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: Zacchaeus the Tax Collector (Luke 19:1-10)
1He entered Jericho and was going through the town 2when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. 3He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; 4so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. 5When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: “Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.” 6And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. 7They all complained when they saw what was happening. “He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house,” they said. 8But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, “Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.” 9And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; 10for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.”
2. 1- Explanation
The Gospel begins by describing Zacchaeus as a short man and, as a tax collector, a sinner, but who still seeks to meet Jesus. The story of Zacchaeus teaches that, whatever our limits, physical or moral, they cannot stop us from meeting Jesus. If we are sick physically, or sinners, or even far removed from faith, we should know that the offer of salvation is always held out to us.
The centre of the text is the “meeting” with Christ (vv.5-6). This meeting changed the path of a great many in Jericho, as well as the life and behaviour of Zacchaeus. This meeting was transformed by a joyful welcome of Jesus, on the part of Zacchaeus, to his house. This shows how the presence of Jesus is a source of joy. So, we understand that constantly seeking Jesus is the source of all peace, joy and salvation.
In the text, Jesus repeats the word “today” twice (vv.5.9); this demonstrates how every day is a “today” for Christ. Today is the day of salvation, neither yesterday nor tomorrow; delaying repentance brings no profit, for “today” we have a chance of salvation. The first reaction to the encounter comes from the category of “murmurers” (v.7); they criticize Jesus’ behaviour, judge that Zacchaeus is still a sinful man and that Jesus has acted in a thoughtless manner by going stay at his house. This attitude of the murmuring detractors is not a good example for us Christians. The commandment of Jesus says: “Do not judge so that you are not judged” and should make us stop thinking badly of others, prejudging them for life. Jesus wants us to open the opportunity for them to renew their image in a way different from our initial impression.
We then see what Zacchaeus has accomplished in his repentance (v.8). The “four times the amount” which he pledges to give back, could have been dictated by Jewish Law or be a rule in Roman law. However, the text places less emphasis on compliance with the law than on the generosity of the repentant Zacchaeus. What is important is that we achieve our repentance in a concrete way, through actions that prove we have changed, having discovered God’s mercy and His love for our weakness.
The end of the story (vv.9-10) speaks of the Son of Man who came to seek the one who was lost in order to save him; in doing this, he manifests his great love for the world and his willingness to make all men, even sinners, taste the joy of salvation. Here again Jesus appears as the Good Shepherd who runs after his sheep so that they do not stray on the way. It is enough just to be with Christ; if we belong to his flock, he feeds us daily and constantly accompanies us with his blessings. Then we won’t get lost along the way, we will hear his voice, we will listen to his words, we will live in constant inner joy, and will receive, after long years, eternal salvation.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
Today’s Gospel is rich in spiritual lessons:
From today’s Gospel, we retain the following spiritual conclusions: we must always seek to encounter Jesus, by participating in Sunday Mass and in daily personal prayer, for any encounter with him is a source of peace. When we sin, we must quickly ask forgiveness, especially of those we have offended, for a true confession requires an examination of conscience, contrition, confession and reparation. We must not, under any circumstances, judge others on their appearance or based to our own opinions; on the contrary, we must think of them in a positive way. Trust in God’s love and His infinite capacity for forgiveness for our sins, invites us to make an act of faith in him who is a faithful shepherd for our souls, not wanting another person to be lost, but rather that he will approach the source of salvation and be filled with blessings.
In compensation for a life spent selfishly, amassing money and worldly goods, we have to share, according to the reading of this text, with our brethren, men and women, the blessings that God has filled us with. Solidarity between the rich and the poor is one of the urgent appeals of this text, in addition to repentance and reparation for wrongdoing. In concrete terms, our penitence can take the form of donations to charities, or support to orphanages and nursing homes, or also, in the form of offerings and various other aid.