When we consider the public ministry of Jesus we see that much of what he said and did was unpredictable and somewhat shocking. He said we should forgive 70 x 7. He forgave the woman caught in adultery. He healed on the Sabbath day. He paid the emperor tax by having Peter catch a fish that had a coin it its mouth. The Jewish leaders had a hard time figuring out who Jesus was and why he operated with such authority and power. He did not belong to their club or inner circle. Jesus continually challenged the customs and practices of the Jewish culture that needed to be changed.
In today’s gospel Jesus and the apostles were walking though the town of Jericho and a large crowd was following him. People were straining to get close to Jesus and even to touch him because of his miraculous powers. Unexpectedly Jesus looks up and sees Zacchaeus in a sycamore tree. Being short of stature, I often had trouble seeing over a crowd of people. So I can understand why Zacchaeus would want to climb a tree for a better view. He gets the surprise of his life when Jesus invites him to come down, and says that he must stay at his house.
Can you imagine Jesus inviting himself, and his disciples, to dinner? There is a great commotion over this because Zacchaeus is a tax collector, and therefore a sinner in their eyes. But Zacchaeus welcomes the idea. And it becomes a conversion experience for him as the story unfolds. Jesus was unconcerned about the public reputation of Zacchaeus. He saw him as a son of Abraham and worthy of his attention. “Today salvation has come to this house…for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”
We Christians need to interact with all sorts of believers and non believers. Those of us who have faith in Jesus and his Church need to be careful not to judge harshly those people who live outside righteous boundaries. Maybe all we can do is love them and pray for them at a distance because their values and lifestyles clash with ours. But they are God’s children same as we are. We should be happy if they come to know God in any capacity. He is the one who saves.
Fr. Michael Salvagna, CP