Today’s Gospel reading about how a reviled tax collector changed his heart when confronted with the presence of Christ is one of the stories about our Lord’s time on earth that I love.
You see, one of the central themes of Christianity is that the values of this world are not the ones that matter. God has an entirely more merciful view of our lives than we humans often do.
As I age, I am struck more and more by the understanding that God loves each and every person who ever lived, despite our flaws, our sins, our failure to be what he calls us to be. This idea echoes in my soul often, perhaps because it was not until I reached adulthood that I began to realize that Christ is not apart from us, like a mausoleum statue. He is present to us in every moment and every encounter. He stays with us in our darkest hours and he is present even to those the world hates. Nothing is unknown to Him. He offers all of us the possibility of redemption because His love is unambiguous and without measure.
Zacchaeus’ fellow Jews were repulsed by the man, who climbed a sycamore tree to get a better view of Christ. (Shown above in this mixed media piece by Koran Catholic artist Sunhee Joo.) Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector in the large city of Jericho for the Roman occupiers, plus he extorted money from the poor. But Jesus asked to have dinner at his house and he issued his request in front of a large crowd- so all could see his embrace of the man. He wasn’t loving Zacchaeus’ sins, but He was loving the sinner.
And so, when Zacchaeus encountered our Lord, he converted. “Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.’”
Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in our own self-righteousness, considering ourselves superior to others, much as the Pharisees did with Zacchaeus. This perspective is distorted; we’re all sinners in need Christ’s redeeming love. And no one is excluded from His mercy.
I was moved this morning by the way Zacchaeus’ story wove so well with the reading from the Book of Wisdom. “For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?”
And then later today, as I was dropping my son off for a carpool to a travel soccer game, this song by Mercy Me came on the radio, reminding me “You are made for so much more than this.”
Thank you, Holy Spirit.