Jesus meets Zacchaeus by Mgr. Paul Watson
by Brian Ingram
The gospel reading for Sunday a week ago recorded the meeting between Jesus and the tax-collector, Zaccheus. At the time, tax-collectors, working for the Romans and hiving off some of the people’s money for themselves, like so much of the corruption we hear about today, at least in some other countries, were pretty unpopular. Also, in those days, tax-collectors had a face. We might talk about the tax-man, and even have a real dislike for him and the amount he wants to take from us. But, it isn’t some person we dislike, but the way that the system can impinge upon us. Actually, we really understand and appreciate that taxes are a good thing, and are used to benefit us all. Where would we be without our Health Service and so many amenities we almost take for granted – even when we might feel, at the moment, they might be under some threat. Zaccheus, was, it seems, personally despised. He was wealthy, and people knew that at least some of that wealth was gained dishonestly. Today, we perhaps have more of problem with the wealthy ones who try to use their wealth to avoid paying taxes, or with the big global companies who do the same!
All this raises the question about what God might be saying to me in this Zaccheus reading. Among the thoughts I had, was the reminder that last week was the deadline for sending in paper tax-returns! Actually, I didn’t need reminding. For once, I’d actually done it, and so avoided having to pay for the on-line tax-return that would be due early next year.
So, what else does the reading say to me. One thing that stood out was the fact that Jesus felt it was important to affirm that Zaccheus was “a son of Abraham”. We might wonder what Jesus meant by this, and why did he want to say it. Given that Zaccheus was so much despised by his fellow Jews, and was perhaps thought to be a sort of traitor to his race, Jesus might simply have been saying that, in spite of his collaboration with the Romans, and in spite of his dishonesty, he was still part of the chosen people – the descendants of Abraham. However, Jesus went on to say that he had come to seek out and save what was lost! There seems to be something else in Jesus’ mind. Was Jesus saying that some descendants of Abraham needed saving – some who were behaving dishonestly, for example, or was there something more?
It’s always a good thing to look back at the Old Testament to try to understand Jesus’ words and actions. Often the Gospel gives clues as to which OT reference Jesus had in mind or was referring to. In this incident, surely the Old Testament reference is Genesis 18. The chapter begins: “And the Lord appeared to him (Abraham) by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day”. Actually, three men were in front of him, and Abraham ran to them and offered them hospitality. In the Gospel, Jesus says to Zaccheus: “Hurry, come down, for I must stay at your house today!” The echoes of the Lord’s visit to Abraham are unmistakable. The result of the welcome that Abraham gave to the three men (Rublev’s icon clearly portrays the three figures outside Abraham’s tent as an image of the Trinity), was that he was promised a descendent – a son. Abraham’s wife Sarah, hearing this, laughed disbelievingly, conscious of her old age. But the Lord promised even more. Abraham was to become a great and mighty nation, and bring blessing to all of the nations of the earth. What a massive promise! And linked to the fact that Abraham was willing simply to welcome the Lord into his house!
Surely, it is in this sense; it is in this likeness to Abraham, that Zaccheus is proved to be “a true son of Abraham”. Zaccheus too has welcomed the Lord into his house. In the end, being a descendent of Abraham is not about being an ethnic Jew; it’s not about behaving and keeping the law either. It’s about welcoming the Lord into our house, our life! And when Zaccheus welcomed Jesus as Lord, what a change it brought about. He made amends for his dishonesty, and much further, gave generously, from what was genuinely his own, to those in need.
And herein lies the word of the Lord for me today. Am I also a true son of Abraham? Have I ever, as an adult, welcomed Jesus into my life as Lord? Have I ever asked Jesus into my life – as Lord? There is a difference between Jesus in my life as a guest, and Jesus in my life as Lord. It is a question of who sits on the throne of my life. What rules my life? Is it some other person or thing – a career, a consuming hobby or possession (or something I dont yet possess – the hoard, I crave?). Or is it simply myself. I am Lord of my life. Newman’s hymn “Lead kindly light” acknowledges that, at one time, “I loved to choose, and seek my path”. “But now, lead thou me on!” Once, I was Lord of my life, I was in charge; I sought my own will. “But now!” Now, I have asked Jesus to be Lord of my life! Have you???
There is a very real sense in which every one of us is lost – until we are found by Jesus, and have established (and asked) Jesus as Lord in my life. He came to seek out and saved what was lost. Being lost, ultimately, is anyone who has not yet established Jesus as Lord in their life. But, we say, I go to Church; I give to charity; I try to do good generally; I’m not lost! Someone once said: You know all of these things can be part of a deal I make. I’ll do all of these things, as long as you dont ask me to let go of being Lord of my own life! Self cant take that step – which is why Jesus keeps saying that self has to die. (And it can die, if we unite with Jesus’ death on the Cross).
But dont focus on what we have to give up and let go of. Such promises, such transformations accompany and continue after this decision is made. Let’s not put it off! “Hurry, for today I must come to your house …!”
November 13, 2016
October 25, 2016