Commentary on the Gospel of

Tom Shanahan, S.J.-Creighton University's Theology Department

What a wonderful short story in today's gospel (and I don't mean Zacchaeus' shortness). The story is a goldmine of about how to live a good life according to the gospel, in this case, the Gospel of Luke.

And, yes, Zacchaeus is short, but that's just a minor angle of the story. He has heard that Jesus is passing through Jericho, his hometown, and because he wants to see Jesus, he hustles ahead of the entourage and climbs a tree. He's short of stature, you remember, and he does not want to miss seeing Jesus. My sense is that he doesn't want to just eyeball Jesus, but to interact with him and thus the intricate preparations he went through to prepare for this moment.

As Jesus passes underneath the sycamore, he completely changes the story line. He looks up at Zacchaeus in his perch and takes the initative, "Hurry up and come down. I must stay at your house today." So, Z comes down and "welcomes Jesus with joy."

When he comes down from his perch in the tree, the mood and direction of the story changes significantly. The people who are viewing these events, raise their tried and true objection: "He doesn't know what he's doing. That man is a public sinner who gets rich on the backs of us poor folks! That old sinner is not worthy of anyone's concern".

Now it's Zaccaeus' turn: he talks to Jesus and says that he gives back half of his properties and restores to those he's defrauded by returning it "four times over." Do I think that he has already dont that in the past? No, not a bit. There's still much more for Zacchaeus to contend with. Conversion takes time. But, because of his encounter with Jesus, we can trust that Z will accomplish what he desires, because Jesus is on his side.

His statement is a stance for the future. Zacchaeus' life has changed in this brief but beautifully significant event on the street in Jericho. The man has changed! He's converted! From now on he will refuse to defraud ordinary citizens. Clearly an incredible experience of encountering Jesus who announces, "today salvation has come to this house." This tree-dweller has finally SEEN Jesus and his life altered unconditionally.

Will it take more time and more commitment? For sure. But now the tax collecter has the clear backing of Jesus; and that makes the whole difference.

We pray for patience in the journey of conversion, and a strong resolve to carry out Jesus' call have now been added to Zacchaeus' life. With Jesus' call and his response, what will happen has few bounds. Jesus here in Jericho is on his own journey. A journey to enter Jerusalem for his ultimate service, to give his life for all of us sinners and to bring salvation to our home.


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