Psalm 3:2-3, 4-5, 6-8
Today’s gospel is about the “chief tax collector, Zacchaeus,
who was “also a wealthy man.” On October 12, we read about the wealthy
man who approached Jesus with the question about what he should do in order
to be saved. Interestingly, these two wealthy men had quite different
encounters with Jesus.
The unnamed wealthy man boldly “ran up” to Jesus. He claimed to have
observed the commandments since his youth and wanted to know “what I must
do to inherit eternal life.” Was he secretly expecting a pat on the back
for a life well lived? Jesus answered, “You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor…then come follow me. At
that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
Zacchaeus, the wealthy tax collector “was seeking to see who Jesus was.”
He would not be put off by his physical limitation, and so put himself in
a better position. He climbed up into a tree. Jesus noticed and
said, “Zaccheaus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.”
The tone surrounding the unnamed wealthy man is dark and sluggish.
He has always done what was expected and required. He has lived by
the law. But, there is no excitement in his encounter with Jesus and
he goes away “sad.”
With Zacchaeus there is excitement. I can picture this little man running
behind the crowds, jumping up and down, trying to get a peek of Jesus.
Then scrambling up a tree in hopes of getting a good view and maybe even
hearing what Jesus is saying. Then comes the surprise of the day, Jesus
says that he wants to have dinner at Zacchaeus’ house! And Zacchaeus,
with out hesitation, “came down quickly and received him with joy.”
Two wealthy men. Both wanting to hear what Jesus had to say. One received
Jesus and his message with joy, while the other went away in sadness.
Why? What was the difference? The unnamed wealthy man could not
part with his possessions and went away. Zacchaeus also wealthy, could
not come out of the tree fast enough! Not only did he receive Jesus
with joy, but he offered to give half his possessions to the poor and to
repay any debts four fold.
These readings are about God and God’s unique intimate invitation to each
one of us. In the invitation is a call to live beyond the letter of
the law – to accept the challenge of risk and to let my life overflow in
mercy and compassion for my neighbor. As we say today, it is about
the invitation and challenge to step beyond my comfort zone. It is
not so much about giving to the poor, but of letting go of whatever it is
that prevents me doing so.
As with Zacchaeus and the unnamed man, I must first recognize what it is
that I am so attached to – what is my addiction? What do I hold on
to? Or, what holds me? There are the usual – drugs, alcohol,
sex, money, possessions, style of living. But there are others, much
more subtle – fear of failure, fear of success, self image (not good enough,
too good), friends and even family.
Like Zacchaeus and the unnamed man, I really do want to hear what Jesus is
saying and I really do want to follow him, but maybe I am just not sure where
What is the excitement and desire deep in my heart? What is it that
fills me with peace and calm and real excitement, maybe even a bit of challenge
and risk? What is it that will not go away? No matter how big
or small is the challenge – it is a challenge for me. Now, what is
it that is stopping me from moving forward? No matter how big or small,
no matter how seemingly trivial or important, it is holding me, or I it.
The good news is that just as Jesus interrupted his journey for each of these
men, giving them his full and undivided attention, Jesus will be faithful
and present to me. God has invited me and God is faithful and patient.
Dear Lord, that I may not turn away in sadness, but rather receive in joy!