A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke:
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But 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.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
A long time ago, Jesus’s ancestors came to Jericho and asked to pass through the city, bringing the Ark of the Lord with them, but the people of Jericho barred the gate. This cost them everything. The walls went down by a miracle, the people were slaughtered, the city was leveled to the ground. The man who rebuilt the walls of Jericho was cursed. This time, the Lord walked right in and they let Him come.
There was a man called Zacchaeus living in the cursed city of Jericho, and he was a terrible man. He was a tax collector, someone who shook down the people for money to give their Roman oppressors and took a little for himself as well. That’s how tax collectors made a profit. They were despised by everyone, and everyone was right to despise them. Think of the most contemptible, money-grubbing traitor you can imagine. That was Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus, the terrible sinner who lived in the cursed city, heard that the Lord was passing through. He wanted to see the Lord for himself, but he was short, so he couldn’t see over anyone’s head. And it’s not as if anyone was going to stand aside and let him get in front.
Think of the most contemptible, money-grubbing traitor you can imagine. Now think of him hearing the Lord was in town, and running to see, and finding that no one would let him get in front and have a look. Now imagine him so desperate to catch a glimpse of the Lord that he’d swallow his pride, look good and foolish, and climb a tree.
Imagine a wealthy ne’er-do-well up a tree. clinging to a branch, as the Lord passes by.
Maybe he just wanted to see a spectacle, but I believe that climbing the tree was his first act of penance. And I’m sure he looked ridiculous. Anyone who wasn’t looking at Jesus was surely looking up the tree at the tax collector, snickering.Now here comes the Lord, swamped by a great crowd, but of course he looks up at the short stubby tax collector clinging to a tree branch, an idiotic figure. I suppose we all look so ridiculous when we first begin to repent of our sins. But the Lord doesn’t make fun of him. The Lord calls him by name.
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
Zaccheus doesn’t need to be knocked down by a sign from God as the walls of Jericho were. The only miracle here is his repentance, his joy that the Lord knows his name. He comes down voluntarily just as quick as he can, and lets the Lord in.
That day, in Jericho, the Lord was welcomed in.
And when the people saw this miracle, this reversal of history, they were angry, because Zacchaeus was a bad man. Here was the Lord, forgiving past wrongs, eating with a sinner who had taken their money and given it to Rome just because he’d climbed a tree and made a fool of himself.
All eyes were on Zacchaeus, the bad man and the fool.
Zacchaeus said, “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.”
He’s going to be better than good now. He’s going to restore to the people what he took, and half of what he owns by honest means– how much of that there is, I do not know– is going from people made poor by somebody other than Zacchaeus.
And Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
This foolish, evil man from Jericho, is counted among the children of Abraham because he repented of his sins and began doing the Lord’s work. He’s going to return what he stole and start providing for his neighbor. The Son of Man came to seek and save who were lost, and this was the lost one He found in Jericho.
Today, Jericho repents of its past sins; it comes down voluntarily, instead of being leveled.
Today, salvation has come to Jericho.
Blessed are the fools and the bad men, the evil people from cursed cities who don’t have a clear view of the Lord. Blessed are the laughingstocks who look like idiots when the Lord comes to town. Blessed are all of us, because we are all fools and bad men, we all live under a curse, we are all a laughingstock, and none of us sees clearly. The Lord looks at us and calls us by name.
Today, salvation has come to this house.
(image via wikimedia commons)
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