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Zacchaeus the tax collector

Gospel Reading: Lk 19:1-10
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 to him, “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.”

Reflection
SEEKERS AND SOUGHT
The name Zacchaeus comes from the Hebrew zakkai, meaning “clean” or “innocent.” For his contemporaries, the name is a parody, for he is a sinner, someone “unclean” and “guilty.” Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector, an administrator who bids for a tax district from the Roman governor and organizes the collection in the area. He has minor tax collectors working under him and profits also from these underlings’ labors.

People believe that he has enriched himself at the expense of his fellow Jews. The righteous among them avoid his house and his company. Zacchaeus is curious about Jesus. He has probably heard about Jesus and is interested about this well-known figure – a rabbi who teaches with authority and who does not avoid people who are ignorant of the Law or are branded as sinners.

But to see Jesus, he has to be resourceful: he is short in stature, and the huge crowd in Jericho blocks him. So he climbs a sycamore tree and has a bird’s-eye view of Jesus and the crowd below. Zacchaeus gets the surprise of his life when he hears Jesus calling him by name and asking to stay at his house. He joyfully welcomes Jesus into his home.

Jesus seems not to be bothered by the grumblings of disapproval from the crowd. Zacchaeus is won over by Jesus’ kindness and table company, a sign of fellowship and forgiveness. He promises to share his possessions with the poor and repay anyone he may have defrauded four times over. Jesus recognizes his genuine faith in God and his transformed state by declaring him as “son of Abraham,” enjoying the rights to the promises God made to the patriarch.

Jesus, the one sought by Zacchaeus, is really the first seeker. He is “the Son of Man [who] has come to seek and to save what was lost.” He takes the initiative. He calls Zacchaeus and “commands” to be invited to his home. He is not deterred by the crowd’s disapproval. Jesus knows his mission: to get people to know God who does not condemn but calls sinners for healing and salvation.

For Jesus, Zacchaeus is like the prodigal son, the lost coin, and the lost sheep (cf Lk 15). He is the sick who needs healing by the Great Physician. Jesus is vindicated by Zacchaeus’ conversion and promise of restitution. Zacchaeus becomes the model of the sinner who repents and whose values are transformed.

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SOURCE: “366 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: publishing@stpauls.ph; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.

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