Gospel commentary LK 19:1-10
I went outside today and climbed a tree. I will admit that it has
been a long time since I had done so. It took a little longer than when I was 12
years old. I kept thinking about how dirty I was getting, how badly I was going
to scrape my arms and how I was going to explain a broken leg from jumping out
of a tree to my brothers in Youth Apostles. But, I climbed a tree today and I
have pictures to prove it.
It had probably been a long time as well for Zacchaeus, the tax
collector. St. Luke informs us that he was “seeking to see who Jesus was” and
that he was “short in stature.” Climbing the tree helped me realize that the
wealthy man, Zacchaeus, needed a very good reason to mount that sycamore. He
must have been really interested in getting a look at Jesus.
This longing to see Jesus makes sense. On the one hand, every
human being has an interest in encountering the Divine and seeing God with our
own eyes. This is because we were built with the purpose of being united with
God in faith and love. We were fashioned by God to be in a fulfilling
relationship with Him while journeying this earth and, then, for all eternity
in heaven. Consequently, there is a large hole in our hearts that leaves us
terribly unfulfilled until we invite God into it.Secondly, Zacchaeus probably had heard plenty of talk about this
“Jesus from Nazareth.” This simple rabbi was traveling from town to town,
preaching with unheard of authority, healing with miraculous power, forgiving
sinners with unexpected generosity, and attracting huge crowds. Zacchaeus
wanted to see this famous figure with his own eyes.
This built-in desire to know and love God can easily get
smothered by the weight of life’s many demands, including those of family,
school, work and play. It can also get attacked by our personal sins that chip
away at our goodness and make us look in all the wrong places for the
fulfillment of our desires. However, this desire to see God remains in us and
is really hard to completely smother. It remains an impetus for the greatest
task we have on earth — to know, love and serve God on this earth so that we
can be welcomed by Jesus to the place He has prepared for us in His Father’s
Today, let’s ask ourselves: How strong is my desire to see God
and encounter Him?Next, let’s turn our attention from Zacchaeus to Jesus, the main
character in this fabulous scene. We learn so much about God from this
particular moment in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus, according to the Evangelist Luke, is
intending to pass through the ancient city of Jericho on His mission of
building the Kingdom of God on earth. While walking along this path, our
Blessed Lord stops in His tracks, looks up into the sycamore tree at Zacchaeus,
and invites Himself to the tax collector’s house for dinner.
This unexpected move proclaims from the housetops that our
relationship with God is the result of His grace and invitation. First, as
already noted, God plants a profound desire for Him in our hearts.
Additionally, knowing how difficult life and faith are for us, He lovingly
seeks us out; He pursues us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is not distracted by the
crowd but actively approaches us. In this instance, Jesus breaks with another
strong, cultural practice of the day. Jews of this time period usually did not
offer their name to a stranger let alone invite them to their house. Jesus was
being terribly bold by inviting Himself to Zacchaeus’ house for a meal. Jesus
wanted time with Zacchaeus. The Lord wants time with you and with me.
Zacchaeus’ reaction to Jesus is just beautiful. He quickly
descends from the tree and receives Jesus with joy. He repents of his sins on
the spot. He decides to give half of his possessions to the poor and to repay
four times what he extorted from each of his fellow Jews. His life is changed,
and it will never be the same.
What was it about this encounter with Jesus that brought about
such a dramatic change of heart? Was it the look of love in Jesus’ eyes that
pierced his heart? Was it the tone in Jesus’ voice that exuded a tender mercy?
Was it a hand on the shoulder that gave him the sense that he was in the
presence of God and God wanted to dine at his house? Was it a conviction that
he had wanted a major change in his life and this Jesus of Nazareth was
offering him a way out? Whatever it was, it changed his life forever.
Today, Jesus stops at the base of your tree (or below your
bedroom window) and invites Himself to your house for dinner. He wants time
alone with you. What will be your reaction?
Fr. Peterson is currently on sabbatical in Rome.