Meditation of the week

What kind of man is Jesus?

Luke 19,1-10.                                                                              

Jericho, about 25 miles north east of Jerusalem, is situated in the Jordan Valley near the spring of Elisha, an oasis, a few miles from the River Jordan. Also known as the “City of the Palms,” because of its proximity to a large palm forest nearby, it was famous for its balsam groves which perfumed the air of the surrounding countryside.

Zacchaeus, a tax collector, a profession hated by the locals because of extortion, was a small but wealthy man. Determined to see Jesus as he passed through Jericho, and careless of his dignity as a wealthy man, he runs ahead and climbs a sycamore tree so as to be able to see him as he passed by. Concealed in the foliage, sitting on a branch, he waits for Jesus surrounded by the crowds, to arrive. Zacchaeus has no ailments to be healed, no questions to ask or be answered, but has perhaps an unconscious spiritual yearning to be satisfied. He simply wants to see what kind of man Jesus is; to get a good look at him. He may have heard stories about Jesus’ hospitality for tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus arrives at the spot where Zacchaeus is perched, stops, looks up at the tree and invites Zacchaeus to hurry and come down. Neither preaching nor condemnation follow, but a simple request for the favour of staying at his house that day. This is the only known instance we have of Jesus inviting himself into anyone’s home. He asked the Samaritan woman, too, for a favour- a drink of water. (Jn. 4,7).

Zacchaeus hurries down immediately and welcomes him joyfully into his home. Unsurprisingly, all the bystanders are taken aback and complain at the unfolding drama of Jesus entering the house of a dishonest Roman tax collector to dine. Zacchaeus stands his ground; not only would he make fourfold restitution to anyone he has cheated, (double was the legal requirement), but he will give half of all he owns to the poor, as well.  Jesus responds with words of salvation and rehabilitation to this son of Abraham. This curious, fraudulent, tax-collector turned-sightseer, has become a reformed man and a saved son of Abraham like Isaac of old.

“The Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost,” is a perfect description of Jesus’ mission and motivation.  Luke alone calls Jesus “saviour” in his gospel.    From the angels’ announcement to the shepherds at Bethlehem that a saviour is born for them (2,11), to the promise of salvation to the criminal on the cross (23,43), Jesus is nearly always saving somebody.  For Luke the title “Saviour” is allied with Jesus compassion for sinners, as in this story.  Followers of Christ should be compassionate agents of God’s salvation and forgiveness to the outcasts and sinners of our time.  It is unchristian to follow the fashion which so often scapegoats individuals and groups for their real or imagined sins and faults.

Zacchaeus would have been mightily flattered by Jesus’ request to stay at his house that day. How would you feel if Jesus said he wanted to stay with you today?  What hospitality do you offer him in your life?

The crowd hindered Zacchaeus from seeing Jesus. Who are we preventing from meeting Jesus today because we deem them unworthy or sinful?  Is anyone or anything preventing you from seeing him?

Zacchaeus was rich but had a deep inner/spiritual poverty.  Jesus reaches out to him before he offers compensation for his crimes.

Fr Geoff O’Grady