Gospel Reflections

31st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Luke 19:1-10

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Jane Dwyer

Published: October 30, 2016


The Gospel story today comes after a series of reflections on the danger of wealth, or perhaps better, what wealth, the pursuit of wealth can do to us. The rich man (Luke 18:18-23) sought to inherit eternal life. He was and did everything that the old law required. He was “good.”  From his youth he had obeyed the commandments. He recognized Jesus´ goodness and addressed him as “good” Master. And Jesus? Jesus commented that only God is good. Jesus addressed the man as and how he was. Jesus did not call the man by name. There was a conversation between the two, but not an encounter. The rich man expected a very different response from that which the "good" Master gave him. He understood that according to the law his good behavior should merit for him eternal life; eternal life was a legacy that he deserved. But the man was sad when he left Jesus´ presence “for he was very rich.” He was obedient, he was not a sinner…but something was missing, something was lacking.

Today the Gospel presents Zacchaeus, all that the old law, the Pharisees and even the people condemned. He is also very rich and chief of the tax collectors, hated by his people and with reason. But unlike the rich man who was good, in this encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus finds happiness and his place and heritage as the son of Abraham. He, Zacchaeus, who stole, cheated and became very rich at the expense of others! In light of his history, this marvelous experience could hardly have been expected for Zacchaeus. It should have been the experience of the other rich man, the “good” one.

Zacchaeus was a man impassioned. His passion made him rich and the same passion freed him from that ill-gotten wealth. He was a man who went after what he wanted, what called his attention. Meeting Jesus became for Zacchaeus a passion. He wanted to see who Jesus was, meet him. He wanted to see Jesus among the people, experience Jesus’ way of being. He wanted to see Jesus up close, feel his person, his presence, understand him, perhaps even know him. But Jesus was in the midst of a poor and noisy crowd. Whoever wanted to meet Jesus had to throw himself into the middle of the crowd, get dirty, take risks. Zacchaeus was used to this kind of experience. Taking risks was his daily bread. Zacchaeus was short. The crowd hid him, made him invisible and unable to see. So he ran ahead and climbed a tree, certain that Jesus would pass by. And Jesus not only walked by. He stopped. He looked up and from the crowd called Zacchaeus by name. He asked to be a guest of Zacchaeus’, he needed to stay in Zacchaeus’ house. Jesus needed Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus did not hesitate. He jumped down from the tree, welcoming Jesus with joy. The two, Zacchaeus and Jesus found each other, each with his name and his way of being. Zacchaeus ventured, he risked. He threw himself among the people who rightly didn´t trust him, perhaps even hated him. But the desire to know Jesus was stronger than the scorn, disdain and humiliation he could possibly experience and even deserved among the people.

And it was a graced encounter, a desire on the part of both Zacchaeus and Jesus which included everyone around them. And for this reason, the impossible happened. Zacchaeus, among this very people who hated him let himself be called and transformed. He let himself be vulnerable among those he had so often robbed and oppressed. He humbled himself, opening his home and his heart. He opened up his coffers and shared much more than his riches.

In the context of the rich man´s experience and our lived reality today, the story of Zacchaeus provokes more questions than answers. Why does the “good” rich man have no name, while the sinner has his name called by Jesus among the people? What really is goodness? Who really is good? What binds and prevents a good people from opening their homes and coffers to follow Jesus? What prevents us from abandoning everything to welcome and follow Jesus as Zacchaeus did? The rich man approached Jesus with expectations. There was something concrete he wanted. Zacchaeus simply wanted to see, know and embrace Jesus. The rich man's expectations were based on a religious formation that he followed faithfully from his youth. At the most important moment of his life, however, this training and formation betrayed him. It left him unable to embrace the spirit and the liberating presence of Jesus. Zacchaeus, however, with his history of fraud and theft, sought the presence of Jesus, opened himself to that challenging presence and became free. The Gospel challenges us. A true encounter with Jesus transforms us, helps us to become Jesus’ presence with and among others. As the song sings: “To do what Jesus does; to see things the way he sees them; to speak the way Jesus speaks.” May this experience of passion, liberation and love of Zacchaeus be also ours.

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